Ted Cantu on Art, Painting, And What Matters Most

Detroit – The late 80’s ushered in a wild time of International Art Exhibitions, late night art after parties and extreme events. It was whirlwind. I grew up in that time and I didn’t even know that kind of life was even possible. Once I got a taste of it I didn’t want to let it go. Nothing even came close to it.

In 1988, I was introduced to Chicago for the first time and I quickly discovered that it was a hub of International art trade, amazing late night spots and it was a 24 hour town. I wanted to be part of that bubble and from that point on did not view things under the same lens as anyone else. The travels led me to SOHO, New York and even opening an art gallery in Ann Arbor, Michigan with friends who were under the same spell.

Before I get too deep into that I want to mention that college and corporate America pretty much beat it out of me. I didn’t follow the fine art route as closely as others and chose the advertising career and got tangled up in that. The art started to slip away and I no longer did any large canvases. In fact, I really didn’t do much of ANYTHING.

Now I moved back to Detroit and they have their rules pretty much drawn into the sand. One is the Dirty Show, where people paint human genitalia. None of that even appeals to me and is about as low brow as it gets. The other thing they get excited about here is the Russell art building which is a run down ex auto factory overrun with prostitutes and drug problems. Needless to say that the gallery scene is pretty null and Detroit gets snubbed by Art Basel every year. So what exactly am I doing here then right?



The return to the canvas didn’t come easy. I had been away for a long time. 1987, was a long time ago and I went thru a whole phase of art styles and influences from Picasso to Magritte to Warhol. Then my ideal of what rock music is and what is great went thru a full mix of changes too. But I knew that where I had grown the most was spiritually so I decided to paint about what I knew and that was Christianity and Rock and Roll. The theme started to take shape into what I wanted and I wanted to express it fully.

For me the images were going to be pulled from the world I grew up with and that is Catholic Saints and Rock and Roll musicians. The contrast was originally set to be an exact contrast of the sacred and the profane and that meant tackling some of rock musics most notorious characters like the New York Dolls, Sid Vicious, The Sex Pistols and Lou Reed. I would eventually chose more obscure musicians and then eventually even the famous ones like the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and the Police. The Catholic paintings quickly took notice of Father Nick from the Church of the Nativity in Northville, Michigan.

The pieces when presented into a big art show will be shown in the same room with one half of it representing Heaven, and other side of the room referring to Hell. Today’s audience will be somewhat lost after being spoon fed sit coms, reality shows and canned laughter television. The rock and roll that is being presented here come from the ground breakers that created the Punk Rock genre. We are looking at dark themes such as suicide, drug addiction and other forms of toxic behavior. These are the extreme people such as Johnny Thunders (a heroin addict) and Arthur Killer Kane, (a wild alcohol fueled machine) that the mainstream media has glossed by. There has been some books and a couple of films made but it they are not part of any mainstream conversation.

The point of the show was to also draw attention to spiritual development of the 2000’s. There have been an array of books, podcasts, websites and authors who have come up in the Internet age that showcase real spiritual growth. This is the light at the end of the tunnel that so many of these doomed rock stars never seen. For the rest of us who are here, these lessons are available, and can learn from their discoveries. Heaven, is a complete understanding of God, and in this particular show it is the connection and the alignment of Jesus Christ. Pretty heavy right?

The number of canvases have grown from its original intention of 40. The theme was so deep that I decided to keep going and not to put an immediate limit on it. The other thing I wanted to do with the show was to put in more rock and roll people that were less dangerous. The show also featured Catholic Saints such as Saint Nicholas, Saint Patrick, Saint Anthony and along with them came all of their lore, history, and stories. This was going to introduce people to another side of life and for some people it was serve as a re-introduction to faith.

I have walked away from traditional religion for a while and was lost. I have made a transformation by embracing this part of my life and restoring myself and even rejecting a lot of the rock and roll life. In short, I have saved my life from a one of negativity and destruction. I took the path of freewill willingly and found it empty. This was the reason the show was created. To create conversations and to tell stories both new and old.

So lets look at the art.


So much has been written about the Sex Pistols, books and documentaries and there really is so much footage to be found about them. I have seen all of it and chased this story from its beginning to its bitter end. In fact, I even went down to the Chelsea Hotel in New York City and stood on its porch and where Sid Vicious girlfriend Nancy Spungeon’s dead was carried out in a body bag. Standing on that street brought on an incredible dark vibration that frankly, I never want to experience again. This was also the same hotel where the Beat Poets used to meet and where Andy Warhol shot films most notably, “The Chelsea Girls”. I do believe that the Velvet Underground used to play on top of the roof of this hotel and the kids up there were high as kites and there was no guardrails from keeping them from falling off.

I read about the shows at Max's Kansas City, (which is no longer in existence) and this is where Sid did his last shows. He was a full blown junkie by this point, (in just two years) and had a back up band of some of the most dangerous people in rock music. Forget the fact that these were musicians for a minute and take them face value as dangerous people. We are looking at the New York Dolls bassist Arthur Killer Kane, Jerry Nolan who was also from the dolls and Mick Jones from the Clash. As an artist I found it somewhat unthinkable to keep this kind of company around me and to keep things sane. It is a miracle any of these people survived. As it were a lot of them met with early death like Kane. He had some sort of rare cancer and had suffered with a stroke which deeply affected his speech.

The other stories I heard were much more bizarre like one account regarding Johnny Thunders, (Dolls guitarist) who died in his New Orleans hotel room. The story involves a suitcase of missing drugs and money and his dead body wrapped around a coffee table wracked with rigor mortis. This story says that his back had to be broken to get him out of the table because it was in the shape of an “S”. There was another story of Sid and Nancy waking up in bed with a dead body after a night of partying. There wasn’t much of a police investigation or an interruption of the tour schedule and business just went on as usual. This is inconceivable to me. We live in the age of the web and there are many independent writers so who knows if this is true or not.


This gritty band started in the bowels of New York in the early 70’s. To be accurate it was in the Bowery and the long line of shows they played are somewhat dizzying. Arthur Killer Kane, (the bassist) has since stated that type of rock and roll life does not even exist anymore. The drugs, the people, the madness of living on the street with no money or corporate endorsement is really intense. This was all self imposed but these guys were the prototypes for all the hairbands like Motley Crue, Ratt, Poison and so on. They took all the arrows and took a lot of the drugs too. They were insane. I included lead singer David Johansen who did pull away from the punk scene and enjoy some Hollywood fame and another life as a solo act and the odd party persona Buster Poindexter.

They have death in their story too. They had a drummer who died and was thrown into a bathtub, and a guitarist who popped up dead wrapped around coffee table, (as mentioned earlier) and then there was the drugs. These guys were the dirty precursors to the Sex Pistols. According to a few accounts it was how groupie Nancy Spungen found Sid Vicious. The modern day Fagin, Malcom McLaren, (who was the Sex Pistols manager) managed them briefly near the end and then took the narrative to the UK.

My mother stated it best by saying, “These were dirty people and they were very busy”. The bands of today are sterilized and sanitized for your protection in comparison. They are scrubbed clean by PR people, and agent reps, and evene advertising agencies. The bands that are featured in this show did not have that sort of luxury and were born from the grit of the streets. That was how the show was constructed and I wanted to showcase the contrast of the sacred and the ugly and profane.


These stories will be told during the show in some format. They may be printed on poster board collector cards, or they may be made into brochures, the stories are a very vital part of the show experience. I wanted people to take these stories to heart and for this experience to mean something. There will be stories of the Saints too and I would like it for people to take stories from both sides.



There are so many misconceptions of Saint Nicholas and some don’t even know anything beyond the realm of Santa Claus, (which is based on the Saint). Before I go into this description I want to say that one of the cruelest things you can do to your family is to tell that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. My parents did that to me and I was devastated. The thing you should be telling your family is that Saint Nicholas is not only alive, his spirit is alive, and there are miracles happening right now in his name. Imagine if you were able to tap into that energy and feel and experience that joy on a daily basis? How enriched would your life be? The special joy and synchronicity that would occur daily would be a real game changer and maybe even save your life.

But before I go into all of the joy let me tell you about who he really was. Saint Nicholas was in the 4th century and was a boy Bishop in the first Catholic Church. He hails from the country of Turkey and his first church stands today. He had many miracles that surround him that has been included into his legend. One in particular, I included on my canvas, is about a group of young travelers who were seeing the countryside. They decided to stay in an old Inn and there they were murdered. The bodies were put into a barrel and left out in the street. Saint Nicholas restored them back to life.

The more you dig the more you will discover that Saint Nicholas is celebrated around the world. There are websites that celebrate stories and modern day miracles. His Feast Day is celebrated in early December and I was fortunate enough to go to one of his Holy Masses. That day, I will always remember, because I heard the tale of a modern day sighting of Saint Nicholas after a ship wreck in 1942. The story talks about a young boy being carried back to shore by a old man described as a “grandfather”. The old man was seen walking on water and carrying the young boy back to shore totally safe. After they arrived the old man disappeared and left no trace.

My own experiences with Saint Nicholas were just as miraculous and he has blessed me with many dreams and new insight. He has restored relationships for me and has taken away bitterness and anger and has shown me the way to find real love. Working with Saint energy is a power you can tap into right now. You do not have to wait to be pious or Holy. I found you have to have faith and a yearning to learn. When I decided to go home to the Church that is when a lot of miraculous things started to happen. People pay experts like Tony Robbins a lot of money to get to this place in life. I was able to tap into it without taking that path.

I wanted to incorporate all of the old traditions to capture this type of magic. This is the essence of life. To be at one with the creator and to experience daily miracles. Even if you are able to experience peace at some level you are achieving success. I was able to have all of this thanks to my deep studies with the Saints.


CNN had a man on the street who asked party revelers who Saint Patrick was on a Saint Patrick’s Day broadcast a few years ago. The drunkard on the street bellowed something about the true purpose of the day was to get completely sloshed. From there they went to commercial and that was the end of it as far as they were concerned. It was not a very flattering portrayal of this amazing Saint.

Saint Patrick was a real person and not some construction of some beer company or advertising agency. I say, as I always do, get to know him. I chased him by buying Celtic Cross and I got it blessed by a priest. From there I read many accounts about his life and I barely touched the surface. I read the account of a man who blasphemed God and cursed Christians and he got into a confrontation with Saint Patrick out in an open field. Patrick aimed his arm towards the foul man and levitated him off the ground up in the air. It was difficult to see exactly how high he was in the sky but it was over a good three stories. From there the man fell and he died. Would you believe it if I told you that I actually read this in a children’s book?

My personal connection with Saint Patrick was very physical. Right after I got my Celtic Cross I decided that I wanted to order some corned beef and eggs to honor his Feast day. I prayed over my food with my family that morning and when we finished and opened our eyes we witnessed a bright green aura around our plates. It lasted for about 20 seconds. It was such an interesting moment that I never wanted it to end. When you experience the fantastic the whole idea is that you want it to last. Its such a rush. Eventually it faded into thin air and that moment served as a reminder that Saint Patrick was indeed near.

That was it for me. I wanted to be near the Saints. I wanted their help and friendship and most of all I wanted their fellowship. I began to study faith on a deeper level and even started going to regular daily Catholic Mass. In short, I went home. I stopped being cool and living in the world. I went home. If you want to know the truth it saved my life.

The last Saint Patrick memory I have for you is when I was in New York City. I went to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1990. I walked over after work to show my respect and check in. When I hoofed over to 5th Avenue I was on business and I took it very seriously but I had no idea what I was going to see once I got there. I climbed up the stairs and walked through the large wooden doors into the main sanctuary. The lights were all turned off and there were two rows of tall green candles that were placed along the aisle to the alter. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I was in a place of profound peace and holiness. You could feel it because that energy was everywhere.


Right now I am unsure how when the show will be available for viewing or where it will be held. But you can capture a glimpse of the work in progress at:

There will be many more stories, all true, because that’s the whole point. You are being taken a magical journey and for some it will be a real departure point. There is nothing preachy going on here and I am not here to sway your opinion one way or the other but to give you another view on life. It is rare that one person has lived to such extremes as I have. All I am doing with this show it to bring my talent and faith and stories all in one spot.

I hope you enjoy it.

Ted Cantu





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