Arizona Artists

Near-Death Experience Has Transformed This Arizona Artist

There is an electric metal door that welcomes visitors to Patrick Carey’s small silversmithing and lapidary studio attached to his house. And Carey, now a great Arizona artist, was down on his luck, as one rock and roll singer called it, mother died several months ago after he cared for her during the final days, and her small house near Swan and 22nd Street got repossessed. Not a cent to his name, $600 in the hole.

As torrential rain pours and the humid air and odor of oil-streaked roads and creosote saturate the ground. It is Tucson’s lightning storm within a moment that may shift life forever, physically, or spiritually. Or your teeth may sizzle from your mind. It comes on if you want it or not.

Our Arizona Artist Survived The Strike

He walks inside by the open metal door, and lightning blasts. Voltage sizzles up bone and flesh, exits his head, and cracks a nearby mulberry tree in two.

He is blown back with his little studio, round a small bend, and by a doorway into his parking and a pile of boxes. The electric current disconnects when the automated door closes. He comes to hours later, knees back to his ears, smelling of scorched flesh, melted tooth fillings, singed hair.

He is stunned by the shock of his neuro-system as the information sinks in of what happened to him: out for hours and not feeling well, but not dead either. At least the blast didn’t re-shatter his back. Patrick cannot figure out why he is still among us.

Days later, he locates his own pocket knife many feet from the metal door accident. Something is still acting weird inside of him because when he touches any electrical device, like his cell phone, it stops working. He gave his cell phone to a friend the phone worked fine.

Image:, Brian Smith

One Lightning-Strike Aftershock Involved a Minor Stroke

In ways, the 2008 electricity bolt split his life into the before and after. He also gained a philosophical point of view. Even his business name — No Name –subtexts how he relates to the world around him, and the attitude toward his business. Panic attacks he long suffered disappeared.

“Ha, natural electrical shock therapy!” Oh, and he wears nothing but red T-shirts because that is the color of power.  He keeps a stock of them since they have become his uniform. His girlfriend’s children thought it was crazy when they saw so many red-colored shirts in the laundry.

Obsessive-compulsive tendencies or superstitions are part of his life. For example, he’s a “3” person, manages things into sets of three. Does not sign his name much “because I do not want to be talked about too frequently when I am dead. I will be tormented.”

Carey has since become a striking painter, oil on acrylics, canvas, chalk.  The lightning possibly opened a path for creative confidence or at least freed his head to become the Arizona artist he is today. Amazingly he survived death—twice and extreme poverty.

He’s pleasingly simple in person. Comical, even, incisive sentences shoot like punch lines and match his silly smile.  Round brown eyes, thick flat-top hair.  His back curves abnormally, like if coaxed by a snake charmer, which provides him a somewhat ghoulish mien. Yes, he also busted his back when he fell from a car lift onto the pavement.

Few did much to assist, not the muffler installer for whom he worked, nor did the insurance company who represented say installer. He was 22 then, over 30 years ago. His X-rays showed a damaged spine from which his pelvic bone got apart. He had to stay in a wheelchair, but tough rehabbing returned him to the walking world.

The lightning left a lingering injury, still the random tremors and shakes. He’s careful with coffee. Little, if any, booze. His memory falters some. And speaking was difficult initially. He sang to childhood fave Ozzy amongst others, to lick the stutter.

It’s a workday, and Carey is behind a caged door in a workshop that is about the size of an inmate’s cell. It sits inside the beautiful American Antique Mall, famous for jewelry, antique, and silver located on:

3130 E. Grant Rd. Tucson, AZ 85716 (near Country Club)

(520) 326-3070

Business Hours 10:00 am – 5:00 pm Tue-Sat

Carey walked in here off the street two years ago.  Christy Schannep and Dwight invited him to set up a shop. Here, he freelances silversmithing and lapidary work, and they toss him store jewelry repairs.

He executes six or seven repairs or jobs daily. Clients and shop owners say he is a master lapidary, and there is not a precious stone, he hasn’t cut or fitted. It works out; both sides gush how fortunate they are.

He buses to work from the far east side of town from his home where he lives together with his girlfriend, Jill Isachsen, who herself is a goldsmith in Tucson’s Krikawa Jewelry. Carey describes her as a “master goldsmith” and would also be considered an Arizona artist.

Sandra Barr is this self-deprecating and humorous UA art history teacher and native jewelry specialist. She comes to see Patrick because she’s heard he is the real thing. Seconds later, she’s identifying each classic American creation in the workshop, the artists who designed them, and the tunnels that gave up the turquoise.

Barr and Carey speak fast, of holes and cuts and shanks. She trusts him with a pleasant Ernie Lister silver and turquoise piece for banding and refitting. When she leaves, out-of-state packages come for Carey, people shipping items for alteration or repair.

“Now it is all I get are repeats,” he says.  If this so far seems boring, here is one reason why it isn’t: This man is autodidactic, pulls exceptional from normal.

Carey roars at his preferred craft. Behind told work are the guts and years that notified it, so his nimble fingers roll about blades like no ones. Observe awhile, and theater emerges The hums and clicks of silversmithing and lapidary turn weirdly hypnotic and intimidating.

Long silences fill with bright authority. The delight and dare, the artfulness, and not just in the Native he works with, but the stone he minces and carves and prepares and mounts. It’s like watching anybody who makes artistry of a profession few others observe — an airline pilot, a tow-truck driver, an album mastering engineer, a distance runner, a rug weaver, a public protector. Earned expertise becomes a type of grace.

And he does not appear encoded in job-hating monotony. You get the feeling he’d do it free, which he has.

The aw-suckiness of his answers whiff of insecurity, not fake modesty. Nevertheless, the effortlessness creates a mythology that says the same crippling internal messes which keep us from doing things do not happen to him. His focus cuts through.

Even while he’s talking about the metaphysical features of living in the here and now with some belongings, or how Native jewelry designers often get screwed in terms of financial return, he will form silver pieces into some loveliness, and cackle aloud at himself.

Didn’t observe Carey working with his canvases and paint — his girlfriend Jill, understandably, was not keen on an author attacking their home—yet the arts themselves communicate personal truths in psych-out humor. The concentric circles in African or aboriginal colors, the intensity, and layers, similar to the object Timothy Leary would’ve connected at his Hitchcock estate. Perhaps Jackson Pollock was a pliable connecting point.

Carey says he never examined contemporary masters, or the old masters, for that matter. But there’s the command of color and composition that connects the viewer to the piece. He taught himself first by flinging paint on old drop cloths. Years of working and painting ensued, in a Grant Road warehouse facility, where he lived after the lightning stroke.

Even his Halloween outfits lift on imaginative leaps. Pictures show street-to-sky beasts adorned with withered heads (a bow to grandmother, more on that in a second), and Native American chest plates, and huge 15-pound headdresses, and ghostly plumes of fright eyes and feathers, wings with 12-foot spans, and ribcages on domestic platform hooves, which might take Carey three weeks to learn to walk on. Costumes recall those donned in New Orleans Mardi Gras by Black Masking Indians. He’s won multiple local Halloween contests. “

Now let’s back up: Carey was reported dead at four years old. But he was not. His Social Security number was possibly mixed up with a dead boy, who terrifies him to date: Carey surprisingly keeps cash in the bank as his accounts manage to freeze, IRS-style.

Letters surely appear saying his SS number belongs to the dead, rather than Carey’s biggest attempts to fix it. He gave up.

In the 1980s, Tucson public schools did little to stir Carey intellectual interest and behavioral issues associated. He hung on a couple of years at Palo Verde and Rincon high schools and then bailed. He smoked weed. Meantime, he’d been taking apart things, intellectualizing mechanics, sundry electronics including TVs, and, later, cars.

Took apart motors in his waitress mom’s living room and built a street rod as a teen. He learned the audio mixing board and made a live sound for metal band Savant at Tucson clubs. Soon, he rode to auto school, the now-shuttered ITT Tech, on government support, and comprehended auto mechanics.

Then he came and broke his back at a Tucson transmission shop. The brutal rehab took years. However, an ex-con hired Carey under his wing while he is living with mother in this “kind of Section 8 accommodation over near Pima and Swan,” Carey says.

Later Carey became an apprentice electrician. For some time, he produced acid-resistant fiberglass tanks and installed them in copper mining towns near the Western states, also inside the Palo Verde nuke plant. Also, he worked on and off at Starr Stone, a Tucson jewelry supply house.

Often he ran little businesses from makeshift home studios. He discovered lapidary on the fly; it said “stonecutter” on his silversmith card before he could cut stone.

Several days later, in the cage, Carey works a torch in welding goggles. He’s like some sitting Buddha, but in the way, a prisoner turns self-reflective and ashamed after horrific experiences, minus the punishable offenses. He’s a teacher too.

Standing beside him is his girlfriend’s daughter Iona, who is fitting stones, polishing stone, and silver with truancy’s eagerness of truancy. She is apprenticing with Carey for a couple of days, perfecting a pastime. Carey also trained her to ride a bike and to catch fish.

She’s an ASU student who made the dean’s list. She’s known her mom’s boyfriend more than half her life and looks to him with a kind family admiration and honor that will occasionally draw eye-rolls. He looks more of a mentor to her, a friend than any stepdad. He gifted her one of his pieces of art, and she adores it.  “Iona can torch better than I can!” says Carey.

They talk about ghost stories, and about Uncle Maxwell. Iona isn’t so sure she has seen any ghosts in the house. Carey swears he’s.  They talk about his destiny.  For more information about another Arizona artist check out this article.