I received an exciting commission this past fall from the widow of 2006 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Ed King, former guitarist and founding member of Strawberry Alarm Clock, co-writer and guitarist on the number one hit “Incense and Peppermints” and Southern Rock stalwart Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ed, who passed away in 2018, helped to create Lynyrd Skynyrd’s signature sound as one of the famed “Three Guitar Army”. He co-wrote Sweet Home Alabama during his first day with Skynyrd, and is considered by many to be one of the greatest guitarists of all time.
Ed was a guitar aficionado and had a substantial collection of guitars. What his room needed was guitarists. His widow wanted to add six guitarists to Ed’s display room. To say I was honored was an understatement. In addition to painting a chair of Ed, I was asked to create chairs of musicians who had influenced Ed throughout his career. They included John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Billy Gibbons, Duane Allman and Neil Young. Oh, if this Six Guitar Army could talk…
Billy Joel was commissioned along with Freddy Mercury as a set for a music suite. While having near complete freedom for both pieces, this one needed to have the lyrics to The Piano Man displayed in a prominent place.
Billy was born in 1949 in the Bronx, NY. At age 15, he played his first gig at a piano bar in his neighborhood. He loved it so much that he quit high school to pursue his career. He was part of two bands before signing a solo record deal with Family Records.
His big break may have come when he caught the attention of Columbia Records by performing Captain Jack live on a Philadelphia radio station. As a result, he signed a record deal with them in 1973. He really became popular with the release of The Stranger in 1977 with his hit singles “Just the Way You Are”, “Movin’ Out”, “Only the Good Die Young” and “She’s Always a Woman”. Due to poor management, he earned only $3,000 from the album.
Joel has continued to produce noteworthy records and has received a whopping 23 Grammy nominations . His voice is synonymous with the 70s and 80s. To date, he has sold over 78 million records.
I was also commissioned in 2021 to create Freddie Mercury, the highly theatrical front man of Queen. And, I have to say he was great fun to create. I decided to pay tribute to him from his famous Live Aid performance at Wembley Stadium in 1985, which most consider to be his greatest performance.
Mercury was born September 5, 1946, and his four-octave vocal range was amazing. His noteworthy hits include “Killer Queen,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Somebody to Love,” “We are the Champions,” “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Crazy Little thing Called Love.”
As a member of Queen, Mercury was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 a much deserved honor. In 2018, the movie Bohemian Rhapsody brought attention again to Freddie’s musical career.
Most people have probably not heard of the band Throttle Back Sparky but I was contacted last fall by Allen Lulu, one of the band members , who asked me to help him pay tribute to the band.
Throttle Back Sparky was an American rock band that played in and around Los Angeles in 2000. The band was formed by Allen Lulu and Jon Rosenberg after the two New York University college friends reunited at the Music Night, an occasional late night program where theater members and affiliate actors and musicians would come together to play original songs and covers in the relaxed atmosphere of the post-main-stage venue.
The original lineup of the band was mostly an ad-hoc assortment of Music Night performers and their acquaintances. They produced two albums Great Big Mardi Gras Head EP and Throttle Back Sparky. The band’s oeuvre ran the gamut from two minute punk homages (The Ramones influenced, “Joey Enough”) to epic stadium anthems (“Age of Consent” & “Trusted”). Known for their high energy shows, they would often describe their performances as “if someone paid $10 to see us, we should give them a $50 show”.
During the course of their six-year career they would frequent the Los Angeles club scene, most notably playing shows as The Gig, The Joint, Coconut Teaszer, The Whiskey-a-Go-Go, The Derby, The Hard Rock Cafe among many others.
Ludwig van Beethoven remains one of the most admired composers in the history of Western music. He was born in 1770 although the exact date was not recorded. At he age of 10, he withdrew from school to study music full time and by the age of 12 he published his first musical compositions.
His career has conventionally been divided into early, middle, and late periods. His early period, during which he forged his craft, is typically considered to have lasted until 1802. From 1802 to around 1812, his middle period showed an individual development from the styles of Joseph Hayden and Wolfgang Amadeus and is sometimes characterized as heroic. During this time, he began to suffer increasingly from deafness. In his late period, from 1812 to 1827, he extended his innovations in musical form and expression. He died at the age of 56 in 1827.
From the woman who commissioned this chair: “Many years ago I had a dream that morphed Beethoven sitting in a chair, (like Lincoln at Washington Memorial.) I was a kid in the dream and I was crying and I climbed on Beethoven’s lap and he comforted me. I had forgotten the dream until I saw your completed chair! Now I can truly sit in his lap but this time without the tears. Thank you Todd, you have been a pleasure.”
I love getting commissions. This one had me excited. It’s not everyday you you get challenged to paint one of the most-renowned American pop artists of our time… Andy Warhol. While the client wanted him in black, I also realized this piece needed color.
Warhol, who was born in Pittsburgh on August 6 1928, began his career working as a successful commercial illustrator, and then he grew in popularity after having his work exhibited in several New York galleries in the late 50s.
He became most recognized for exploring the relationship between artistic expression, advertising and celebrity culture. His works span a variety of media, including painting, silk screening, photography, film, and sculpture. Some of his best known works include the silkscreen paintings Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962) and Marilyn Monroe, (1962) which was completed just week’s after her death. These two iconic prints, along with flowers on the back legs, became the color this chair needed.
I’m happy to report, my client loved the chair, and I have to admit I think it turned out great. I’d like to think Warhol, who died in 1987, would approve as well.
I was recently contacted by a retired journalist from Ohio who had a desire to have a dining room table occupied by four noteworthy African American women. I welcomed this challenge and was honored to complete it. If only these guests could talk…what a story they would have to tell.
The chairs included:
Sojourner Truth, who was an American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, New York, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son in 1828, she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.
Harriet Tubman, who was an American abolitionist and political activist. Born into salvery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people, including family and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. During the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army. In her later years, Tubman was an activist in the movement for women’s suffrage.
Rosa Parks, who on December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, rejected bus driver James Blake’s order to vacate a row of four seats in the “colored” section in favor of a white passenger, once the “white” section was filled. Because of her actions, she became symbol of the civil right movement.
Maya Angelou, who was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She is probably best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim
This has become one of my favorite requests to date, Peter Gabriel in his “bat costume”, created as a gift to an ardent fan and musician. In working with the client, we decided this was Gabriel’s most iconic image. Here is a little background.
On February 9, 1973, Genesis played at the Rainbow Theater in London, ENG. Unbeknownst to the rest of the band, Peter brought along a trunk of costumes to wear. This costume was worn during “Watcher of the Skies”, the first song of the evening. During this time, Gabriel understand that simply playing music was not enough, standing out to garner attention was also becoming a necessity. This concert became a turning point in the band’s career.
…and to help her celebrate, I created a table and chair set for the two girls to play on (in time). Her favorite place is the zoo, so it was only fitting the this set feature images of her favorite animals. These have everything from a zebra, flamingos, and lion to an elephant as the table. There are also animals on the backside as well. In return, I received a wonderful “thank you” that adorns our refrigerator.
Like the rest of the world, COVID-19 has me and my family sheltering in place for a while. For a change of pace, I decided to take this time to step away from chairs and work on some flat canvases for a while.
I just completed the painting above of an old rusty truck we saw along the roadside on a summer family vacation out to Zion and Bryce National Parks. When I saw the truck it just spoke to me. It really spoke to me knowing its day it was probably a vital piece of equipment for some nearby rancher and seeing it in its current worn out but still beautiful in some unique way.
I guess you can say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you never know where you might find it.