Robert Maniscalco believes a portrait should tell a story
BY JASON ZWIKER
[published in Charleston Style and Design, 2013]
“Creating a portrait is like writing a biography,” says artist Robert Maniscalco. “The human form has stories to tell that go beneath the surface.”
Art, for him, is not an elective, a supplement to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. It is an essential part of human experience. Deprived of it, we do not see ourselves, and the world around us, with nearly enough clarity. He has spent most of his life communicating that basic idea to as many people as possible.
Maniscalco has embraced art from multiple angles in his lifetime. The son of an internationally renowned portrait artist, he apprenticed with his father early in life and also spent years as an actor, director, and classical musician. All of these experiences inform the art that he is creating today.
“I would not be the painter I am today had I not trained as an actor in New York,” he explains. The same skills that enable him to play a part on stage also help him to capture the personality of an individual that he is preparing to paint.
Replicating the shapes, hues, and values on canvas is only one part of the process. Each brush stroke, according to Maniscalco, represents a choice about the essential nature of the subject. These choices, based on the artist’s lifetime of experience and insight, give life to the portrait, telling the story of the subject: who he was, how he carried himself, what mattered to him.
“Two hundred years from now, someone should be able to look at a portrait and have the sense of that person being in the room,” Maniscalco explains. “That expression of who someone is requires more than just technically correct lines on canvas. There has to be personality, dynamism. By choosing what to include and what to exclude, we are able to get to the quintessential nature.”
By capturing that quintessence, the artist elevates the portrait above being a simple likeness of an individual. It becomes what it ought to be: a work of art, a legacy that will be handed down generation to generation.
This idea of legacy was especially evident a few years back when he was commissioned to paint the portrait of philanthropist Jerry Zucker for the Hudson’s Bay Company.
“We talked about mortality and the portrait process in the same breath,” he says. Zucker approached Maniscalco after being diagnosed with cancer, according to the artist. He wanted the portrait to be done by a South Carolina artist and he appreciated the style and thought process of his work.
Maniscalco has painted celebrities, CEOs, and Supreme Court justices, but he strives to keep his work affordable to anyone who truly understands what a portrait means for an individual and the people who wish to celebrate his life and achievements.
He recommends giving the process of selecting and working with a portrait artist the same care and consideration one would give toward the procurement of any fine heirloom. That integrity has earned him many accolades over the years. He currently serves as Artist-in-Residence for the City of North Charleston and shares his love of art through his Power of Positive Painting classes. In these classes, his approach to artistic style shines brightly.
“I can teach everybody the same method, but the results will all be different. These differences reflect the insights that the individual artists bring from their lives.”
“I am always looking for those little one-on-one moments, those ‘aha’ moments, like when someone sees an abstract shape for the first time,” he says. “I am planting seeds of creative epiphanies.”
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