I met Rob Maniscalco in 2004, when he hosted Art Beat Detroit, a local weekly PBS series that was broadcast on WTVS Public Television. In 36 episodes that ran from 2003 to 2005, Rob introduced and profiled Detroit-based artists in their studios. I was one of his interviewees in 2004, when I had a studio in the 4731 Gallery building northwest of downtown.
As an art show host, his manner seemed a bit odd to me, kind of offbeat, like a showman’s. It was the very opposite of what I had expected given my early exposure to PBS artists Bill Alexander (The Magic of Oil Painting, 1974-1982) and Bob Ross (The Joy of Painting, 1983-1994). While I never really was impressed by their work, they did define for me the manner in which I thought TV artists should conduct themselves. Not Rob. As with his art, Rob had his own approach.
I did know that Rob was a practicing artist but was unaware that he also had had formal training as an actor, director and playwright. Looking back, I would say that that served him well as an entertainment host for a TV show about artists, each of whom had their own quirks and uniquenesses. As I learned more about him, in particular about Rob the artist, my first impression faded…not entirely; His wit, puns and penchant for surprise continue to amuse, for I, too, have acting, writing and directing within my artistic repertoire.
What I discovered about Rob is that before much formal training, his father, portrait artist Joseph Maniscalco, provided formable lessons in their unique style of painting. Joseph was schooled in the (Frank) Reilly Method, which emphasized a value-based palette. His ability to render also was steeped in the traditions of Rembrandt, Velazquez, Hals and Sargent. So, it is not surprising that color or hue is inherent in the signature Rob Maniscalco style today. When you look at a Maniscalco painting, father’s or son’s, the influences are apparent in how light and form are used to create mood or in revealing a subject’s character. Another inherent aspect of a Maniscalco portrait or in other work even of animals is the detail within the subject’s eyes, a reveal of the soul it is often said.
Rob, the actor/painter describes himself as an Expressive Realist, no doubt drawing (pun intended) from both art and theatre backgrounds. Every artist is categorized one way or another, so I guess his descriptor is as fitting as any other. Simply put, in all genres of landscape, figure, and still-life, I would summarize Rob’s work as a blend of amorphous, colorful backgrounds with distinctly rendered subjects and foregrounds: simultaneously expressive and realistic, with an employ of strong side-lighting to define and render shapes. He is not timid when it comes to laying on the paint evidencing his mastery of brushstroke and use of impasto.
I believe that artists must be willing to leave what they know and attempt to push forward, to explore and extend their knowledge yet not having to surrender what they’ve accomplished or achieved. While doing what he knows best – portraits – Rob is unafraid to step out from what he excels at, to express in paint in multiple ways. Even in his quasi-Daliesque/surreal works or pure abstractions, the Expressive/Realist will tell a story, or present his point of view, or manifest an emotion based in the Maniscalco tradition.
The 32 pieces in his exhibition, “Quench,” on view through March 26, at the Grosse Pointe (Mich.) Artists Association, retrospectively demonstrate his lingering thirst to make and teach art. Yes, Rob also is an instructor, passing along his knowledge as a painter and artist and TV host. His exhibition features recent works as well as some of his favorite landscapes, still lifes and portraitures. In each, the Maniscalco signature of hue, light and form is amply revealed.
Detroit. Mich. 48207
Here’s a short video created in 2014 by my friend, Victor Pytko. “The last Artist” is a witty, sharp critique of our society’s throw away culture. We no longer seem to value original artwork. Our image driven, selfie obsessed society cares little for the original work of the creative, postulating that we have so many images we no longer need artists to create more, something myself and other creatives have been railing about for years. This satirical account of the last artist bites hard into the superficiality of our culture, imagining a world without artists. Why own an original with so many ways to experience (steal) the image? Because one is real, the other is imitation.