When one of your best friends says "I'd like to commission you to do a painting for my office", it should be one of the most relaxing and enjoyable jobs ever. So, I asked my friend Matt (who's one of the top casting directors in Hollywood) what he'd like? He answered: "The Ramones..."
Inside I said "hell yeah". I did a small Johnny Ramone at CBGB painting for him for his birthday so this is right up my alley. But then he said, ..."no wait..how about your version of the comedy & tragedy masks?"
Before I can say yes, he hands me money to get started. How hard can masks be, right? Well that was last May. I had this concept in mind with a sun colored Hollywood sign and words like, Star, Sex, Academy Awards, Porn, across a dark sky background. Behind the masks, I could show the dreams, nightmares, and highs and lows of Hollywood. I envisioned the comedy mask being a blend of Laurel from Laurel & Hardy and the Joker from Batman. While the tragedy side would be the Pantheon of the Opera mask that transitioned into a skull from Hamlet.
Well, I got the background done in a couple of days, thinking it would be smooth sailing ahead. Next came the task of blocking in the masks, under painting & finishing them off. Pretty simple right? Well no. First the proportions were off, then mixing Laurel & the Joker into one face wouldn't line up. I tried different Joker faces from the comics, TV, Cartoons & movies and nothing looked right.
From a few days to weeks to months I tried different things, all ending in failure & disappointment. The other mask wasn't working either. Matt would ask "How is my painting coming?" I'd say I'm working on it, & it's still not right." I want to give every client the best painting for what they are paying me for. I never truly told Matt how much trouble I was having. It was even effecting my other paintings.
Finally I just decided to start over, only keeping the Hollywood sign in the background. Matt is usually either wearing Kings jerseys, collared shirts or rocker inspired t-shirts like Affliction. So it hit me to do the masks as skulls with a rocker attitude. Before coming to LA, Matt was from New York, he hung out at CBGB's & even played there.
I started on the skulls, one for comedy (a sick & twisted one) & one for tragedy. I put in layers & layers of color & shading to bring out the bone color & texture of the skulls, going darker in the shadows & lighter for the low & highlights.
Seven long painful months of work were finally paying off. I added a lighted silhouette of the LA skyline at the bottom of the painting. The final touch was metallic ribbons influenced by film. I sent Matt just a small section of the painting to his phone, letting him know it was done. Then I made myself a Captain & Coke to celebrate finally finishing it.
I drove down in a random heavy downpour in LA to Matt's office where he was going to reveal it at his Christmas party. I beat Matt to his office as he was returning from lunch. I was nervous as hell that he wouldn't like it.
Well,..... the look on his face was all I needed to see. He was blown away and loved it. He said he knew how hard I worked and struggled with it. It was at that point I told him how hard it was for me, that I could've given him an earlier version and even though he would've liked it, I didn't. I wasn't going to give him something that I wasn't proud of. I wanted to give him the best I could do, that's what he got & the struggle was well worth it.