To start at the beginning, my father was a sculptor. He apprenticed with Daniel Chester French, the designer the Lincoln Monument. In his early days in Hollywood, before he made it as an actor, Dad made a pretty good living that way. When I was about four, he let me start playing with clay. I started out by sculpting “Three Men in a Tub”(Rubadubdub) then followed that up with all the dinosaurs from Disney’s Fantasia.
I started taking piano lessons from a teacher who lived next door to my great uncle, Will Foster. He was a painter, pretty famous. Mostly he painted partially draped nudes. My mother was his favorite model. I would hang with him and watch him paint while I was waiting for my ride home. He also taught art classes to middle-aged ladies and long-haired wan looking young women. I sat in on a few of those keeping my eyes and ears open.
I kept drawing all through my school years: Space ships and aliens mostly at first. I also got very good at painting explosions with colored pencils; mushroom clouds being my favorite. At one of my boarding schools there was a horseback riding program. I started drawing and sculpting horses. Horses are very close to the most naturally beautiful thing nature has come up with. I say close: the female form beats all; the curves, the hair, the lips and eyes; the implications of what that shape is for. But, at 10 years-old, it was horses. When I was in the 8th grade, which would make me about 12, I started drawing animals and insects I saw in National Geographic. Then, I started drawing the naked African tribeswomen. The die was cast.
I was fascinated by August Rodin’s work, and tried to pattern my approach after him. I think he’s my hero, along with Thomas Jefferson and Beethoven. I went for those guys because they broke the mold, like Bob Dylan and John Lennon, two more of my heroes. And then of course there’s Einstein.
I was pretty sure I was going to make sculpture my life’s work, but thinking about it I realized I’d be stuck in a room with a cold, north light and a big piece of rock and maybe a pretty model, and considering how hard Art was to make a living at, I decided to write operas instead. I figured that was a clear field. American operas are rare. And I’d be surrounded by singers, dancers and musicians, and I’d get to drink champagne and wear tuxedos and hang out with Leonard Bernstein.
So I enrolled in San Francisco Sate College, studying music theory and composition. I didn’t do well, there. I’m not made for classrooms. All I’d do in class was pretend to take notes. Actually, I was drawing. I dropped out of college and moved to Berkeley. There was some interesting action there, as it was about the time of the free speech riots. I lived rent-free in the basement of a guy who was running for mayor on the Socialist ticket. I bought a book called “How to Draw and Paint” and did everything it said: stretched my own canvases, sized them, did all the exercises it recommended. Painting in a basement doesn’t work very well, though. When I took the paintings outside, they’ looked completely different. So, I moved into the top floor of a duplex on Milvia Street, which, by the way happened to be facing in the backyard the guest house where Jack Keroac(sp?) had written “On The Road”, which I’d just finished reading. I took a part time job racking balls at a pool parlor so I could afford to pay the rent.
In the tenth grade I drew a comic strip for the school paper. And I kept on sculpting, too. I’d carry a ball of plasteline with me wherever I went. I’d take it out and do something with it whenever there was nothing happening, such as when I was waiting for the principal to give me detention. I was always in trouble.
Another problem I had to overcome was the fact that I’m slightly color blind: Faces would tend to be green, and I wouldn’t know it. I solved that by never using green paint out of a tube. If I wanted to paint a tree, I’d make the green myself.
I’ve always had an especially hard time with everything I’ve tried to do. I wanted to be a musician, but I don’t have a particularly good ear. I’ve managed to become a pretty great piano player, though, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. I do okay with the guitar; and I write good songs. I became an outstanding athlete even though I was one of those original ninety-eight pound weaklings to begin with. I’ve made it pretty big as an actor in spite of being terminally shy. I’ve always envied my brother Keith, who can do just about anything without trying very hard. Invariably, I had huge obstacles to overcome in anything I tried. Had to work against my genes to achieve my dreams.
Anyway, I produced fifty-two oil paintings during that period. Taking a page from Uncle Will and my own libido, which has always been over-active, I painted mostly partially draped nudes. by the time I got to the fortieth or so, I was doing pretty good. None of those paintings are extant, except maybe the little one that I sold for $50. All the others were stored for years in my father-in-law’s garage, but by the time, years later, when I tried to track them down, they had disappeared. All of my early sculptures are gone, too, except for one figure I did when I was seventeen, which my mother had saved. It’s not one of my best. Leer + en http://david-carradine.com/artbio.html