I was at 'Canes watching local tribute band Cash'd Out doing Johnny Cash tunes. They recently won $20,000 in a battle-of-the-bands contest at Viejas. Near their merchandise booth, I started talking to an artist named Carson Grier, who works with the band. He said, "I do a lot of events with Cash'd Out. I've also worked with Johnny Cash's family. I'm talking with Johnny Cash's manager about creating a Cash shoe."
What other big-name musicians have you worked with?
"I've done paintings for Alice Cooper, Steve Miller, Joss Stone, and Tommy Lee."
How did the Tommy Lee thing come about?
"I was commissioned to create a piece of art for Tommy Lee by Kelly Gray [co-owner of Royal Underground clothing with Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe] for Lee's birthday. I delivered the piece to Kelly about a week before Tommy's birthday, and I wasn't sure if I would hear from him. Then, on the morning of his birthday, I got a call. It was an L.A. number, but I wasn't sure who it was. When I get an L.A. number it means something good. The guy asked if Carson is available. I said this is him, and he said, 'This is Tommy Lee.' I was pretty shocked that he would call me at 10 a.m. on the day of his birthday....
"I created an image of him using an ancient art form called micrography. The image was created using all his lyrics from his solo album TommyLand. The words are tightly handwritten to form and create the image -- no lines, and they take hundreds of hours to do. I also filmed me creating the art from beginning to end so he could watch the image be created [with time-lapse photography]. He was at his house, and I could hear a bunch of people in the background -- they were watching the video. Tommy told me that he has seen tons of art in his life, but he has never seen anything like this before, and he loved it. He asked where I lived because he wanted to meet me, and he wanted to set something up. It so happened that he was on tour with Mötley Crüe/Aerosmith, and they were playing at the Coors Amphitheatre in Chula Vista a few weeks later. He gave me backstage tickets to come see him."
Do musicians ever want their instruments painted?
"I haven't done many. Fender Guitars commissioned me to create a guitar for an event at the Fender Guitar Museum in which Steve Miller was going to play a private concert. The guitar was gonna be auctioned off to raise money for Kids Rock for Free, a program that allows kids to learn how to play music and record music at the Fender Guitar Museum. On the night of the event I was nervous that my guitar wouldn't raise that much money because I have heard that other guitars they have auctioned off have raised $100,000, and I have never painted on a guitar before, [but] the bids kept going up and up. It seemed like it was never going to stop! Photographers were snapping shots of people crowding me on the stage, and people were getting calls on cell phones placing bids. It was nuts! It finally came to an end, and it sold for $180,000. I now own the record for a custom guitar sold at an auction for Fender guitars."
Have you done any paintings for a celebrity that isn't a musician?
"I was commissioned to create a piece of art for Halle Berry by her manager as a Christmas gift. I created an image from the movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. That movie meant a lot to her because it was about an African-American actress who was the first one to win Best Actress and get an Academy Award. Halle ended up winning an Emmy and a Golden Globe for that role. I handwrote the entire script and formed and created the image with the script. It's an art form you have to see to believe, and it took hundreds of hours."
Other than Cash'd Out, what San Diegans have you worked with?
"I work with a lot of people from San Diego, such as Adrian Lopez -- I'm designing his Pro Model Skateboard shoe for C1rca Footwear. Adrian was born and raised in San Diego and takes great pride in the city. I also do a lot of events with Cash'd Out. I'm in progress of finding some locations to display my work in San Diego as soon as my prints are available."
How hard is it to become established as an artist?
"I remember days being in my tiny studio that was $400 a month, and I couldn't even afford it! I would spend the little money I had on paints and materials and just locked myself in and painted 24/7. I was focused on getting my idea out of my head and complete the series of paintings that I was gonna use to market myself. My friends would bring me over cheap food and feed me. I thank them all for that. They saw my vision and always supported and helped me not to give up. We would sit there and analyze how I was gonna get noticed by celebrities, like Andy Warhol did. He's my biggest inspiration."
At what age did you start painting?
"Pretty much for as long as I can remember. My mom used to put me in front of paints instead of the TV, and I would draw and paint for hours. There were many times where she would frame my art pieces and enter them into contests, and I would actually win. I owe a lot of what I do today to my mom."