Quickly done. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about going to the dentist?
Cavities? Crowns? Cleaning? Granted, most of us wouldn’t imagine original works of art.
But that’s the first thing you notice when you walk into the lobby of the Professional Center building on North Ash Street, which is home to several dental offices and a dental lab.
Brightly colored paintings depicting pop culture icons adorn the hallways. A steel-eyed Clint Eastwood, a flower-bespectacled Van Morrison, multiple versions of Marilyn Monroe, and many more celebrities past and present grab your attention at every turn.
The art is Robert Carnell’s pandemic project. Her family owns the building and her dental lab is on the ground floor. His workshop is in the basement.
“My project started because no one could go to the dentist for about six months,” he said. “I started doing pop-abstract paintings of famous people.”
The king inspired him.
“I saw an Elvis Presley painting that looked kind of 3D, and decided to try mine.”
He can repair dentures for a living, but Carnell is no stranger to a paintbrush.
“I have always drawn. People would ask me to do sketches for them, ”he recalls. “When I was about 13, I painted an Olympia beer can ping pong table for parents.”
This ping pong table quickly became an attraction for visiting friends and family.
The pandemic gave him time to explore a new medium and create an original style. He counts Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol among his favorite artists.
“I painted in oils, but I had never tried acrylics,” said Carnell. “And I had never seen a mixture of pop and abstract.”
His work mixes the two styles with a 3D-like effect and touches of brilliant color with a touch of chaos.
“I must have some chaos.”
He highlighted his favorite work – a portrait of Jim Morrison from The Doors. Scarlet and orange flames erupt from the bottom of the painting.
“Light my fire,” Carnell said, referring to the band’s iconic hit.
He quickly discovered the difference between using oil and acrylic.
“The oils take so long to dry,” he explained. “But acrylics almost brush dry. It’s like painting with plastic.
So he started to mix the two together, getting the finish and depth he wanted. To get the 3D feel, he used what he had on hand to add texture to some of his works.
“I used dental wax,” Carnell explained, running his fingers along the ridges of Elton John’s glasses.
Each piece takes about a week or two, and each is sprayed with a clear coat when completely dry.
The interior of the building had received a new coat of paint, which gave Carnell the idea of exhibiting his art.
“The white walls looked so harsh,” he said. “I asked if I could hang my work.”
His paintings have aroused demands from tenants of the building.
Mick Jagger with the Union Jack behind him was one of those requests, as was Johnny Depp. Someone else asked him to paint rapper Machine Gun Kelly. He hasn’t started that one yet.
“I had to look for him,” Carnell said, shrugging his shoulders.
The artist works from black and white images drawn mainly from the Internet. In his basement studio, the unmistakable face of John Lennon watches visitors from a web. Lennon is his current work in progress.
To date, 30 of Carnell’s paintings are on display in the building’s public spaces, including a couple by Frank Sinatras and a Marlon Brando ala “The Godfather”.
“We are an Italian family,” he explained.
What began as a way to fill the empty hours brightened the walls of the professional building and reinvigorated the artist.
“I will continue to do this for as long as I can,” said Carnell.
Correspondent Cindy Hval can be reached at [email protected]