Written by Rachel Bessman
If you’ve ever been to Annapolis than you are somewhat familiar with its charm. The main artery of West Street cuts through the city dropping you into the heart of it’s historic downtown.
What you may not experience during your visit though is the innovative, talented, and mesmeric artistry occurring in the small neighborhoods that make up the area beyond the main strip.
In one such neighborhood, tucked quietly at the end of the road in the looming shadow of a nearby water tower, there are bones drying in the hot sun out front near a hammock. Three dogs idly rest inside of the home. This is the house of Ian Wells, and the bones are just one of the many mediums he explores with his art.
Ian, or as he’s better known in art community, Sweetbones, 28, is an Annapolis native and animal lover who uses found animal bones to create truly unique and memorable art. With a psychedelic style, he enhances what may otherwise be cast aside or left behind – adorning discarded skeletons with jewelry and paint and even elaborate “headdresses”.
How did you get into painting?
I have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember, but the past few years I have been painting a lot more regularly. I think my mom is the reason I’m into art, we used to draw together a lot when I was younger. She would draw monsters for me.
How long have you been creating art?
I made a good bit during high school, but fell off for a few years. The current art I am making has probably been going on for about 5 years.
What draws you to working with skulls or other found items?
The way I see it, when I’m painting skulls I commemorate the beast, give it a semblance of life after death. I really love turning a skull into an alien baby with plenty of tentacles bursting from an orifice. I feel like there’s some kind of energy in the bones and it becomes more noticeable to me as I add characteristics. Skulls look beautiful without adding paint so in a sense it’s kind of like collaborating with nature.
What do you most hope viewers take from your art?
I always hope my art makes a statement. I try to make my pieces eye catching, so I make them bold and bright with lots of eyeballs and tentacles and usually throw some UV reactive paint in there for the black light fun. I have an unending amount of respect for all animals and would never harm one, but turning what’s left behind into something wild intrigues me. I love the reactions I get when we set up to vend, or when people come to our house and see a bunch skulls turned monster staring at them. We have had some fun with them at festivals and events without a doubt.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
My mom is one of my biggest inspirations – my earliest memories of creating art are with her. I remember asking her to draw me monsters a bunch growing up. I am really inspired when I see other people creating things as well. A lot of the time, if I don’t work on something for a little while, seeing someone finish a project will give me some motivation to get up and throw some paint around. I love the energy that is put into art and love how noticeable it is when you’re really appreciating the things humans can create, and the feelings these creations can evoke.
You do a lot of collaborations with your partner, what is that like?
I feel like our styles go well together. Also, she helped teach me a lot of techniques I use regularly, and gave me a new eye for the small details that really give something character. She is an amazing artist and seamstress and most definitely another huge inspiration of mine. If it wasn’t for her I doubt I would even be creating the things I do today, she inspires me everyday and I am always asking her to critique the things I’m working on
Do you have any plans for future projects?
I have a lot of ideas of where I want to go with this art in the future, and I’m just practicing now for some even more epic pieces to inevitably come – especially once I learn to work with metal and can incorporate that into my designs.