This painting illustrates the tension between Joey Ramone and Johnny Ramone throughout their career. The pair were politically antagonistic, Joey being a liberal and Johnny a conservative. Their personalities also clashed. Johnny, who was fascinated by the Nazis and Adolf Hitler, would sometimes torment Joey (who was Jewish) with anti-Semitic remarks. Johnny would make matters worse in the early 80′s by “stealing” Joey’s girlfriend Linda, whom he later married. This would inspire Joey to write the song “The KKK Took My Baby Away” off the 1981 album “Pleasant Dreams” (one of the catchiest Ramones songs of all time, in my opinion).
Do You See The Hooded Figure in the Negative Space?
If you look closely, you can see a hooded figure between Joey and Johnny. This was not intentional and didn’t appear in the original sketches, but I kept it because I thought it illustrated the tension between the two Ramones quite nicely. The figure materialized right before my eyes while painting one day. It was almost too perfect to ignore, the only thing missing was the 2nd eyehole. To solve this, I thought that if the neck of Johnny’s guitar forms the one eyehole, I would just have to mirror a duplicate shape beside it. This accidental idea worked perfectly! Johnny’s guitar creates the eyes of the KKK figure, representing the anti-Semitism that would drive the wedge between the two Punk Rock pioneers for the rest of their lives.
As a consequence to this tension between Joey and Johnny, they stopped speaking to each other altogether despite performing together for years afterward. Johnny did not call Joey before his death in 2001, but said in the documentary End of the Century that he was depressed for “the whole week” after the singer died. Bummer…
Hey! Where’s Dee-Dee and Tommy?
This painting had a long journey from idea to completion. The original plan was to paint the complete original Ramones line-up: Joey, Johnny, Dee-Dee and Tommy. But as I progressed, the direction would shift dramatically. I spent the first few weeks sketching during my lunch breaks to get the best caricatures and likenesses possible. I scrapped Tommy Ramone early on, because he just didn’t work in the composition. His caricature was funny though—I think I may do a separate piece on him in the future a bulbous nose with sunglasses playing drums in a belly-shirt—hilarious!
This is the original sketch before transferring it to canvas. Dee Dee and Tommy are still present, but the KKK is not.
After transferring the drawing to the canvas, I deleted Dee-Dee. His likeness just didn’t cut it. It was the weakest of the three and his placement seemed forced. I figured if the painting is only as good as the worst part, eliminating Dee-Dee would raise the bar significantly higher.
The early stages of the painting with Dee Dee in the background. I eliminated him in the final because I felt his likeness wasn’t as strong as the others, and his placement felt forced. This also shows how dramatically the style would change as the painting evolved organically.
More Changes to My Ramones Masterpiece
The style also changed during the course of the painting, as my original vision was a more abstract piece. I wanted it to be a caricature of The Ramones, but I didn’t want to realistically render them the way I did with my Johnny Cash Caricature and Eddie Vedder Caricature. I wanted this to look like pop-art, with lots of bright colors splattered on a canvas with line drawing outlines of the classic Ramones painted over top. But that required self-control, which i don’t have. After “completing” the abstracted painting that I originally envisioned, I couldn’t stop. I started realistically rendering Johnny’s lips, then painting the hair, then the nose; next thing you know, the painting evolved organically to the piece that you see today.
The spatters added alot of character and excitement to this piece.
This is the best painting / caricature / illustration I’ve done so far in my career, but I know that as I apply everything I’m learning to my future projects, I’m confident they’ll just get better and better. I don’t know what I’ll end up doing with this painting. I guess I’ll try to sell it to a rich Ramones fan, or hang it when I get a bigger studio with more wall space. But that doesn’t matter, because it is the process and that gives me enjoyment and keeps me creative.
I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed making it. And a huge thanks to Joey, Johnny and the rest of the Ramones for creating the sound that would ultimately define my life.
Hey Ho Let’s Go!