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From Michigan to Chicago, Punk-Rock to Animals: An Interview with Matt Maniscalco

   Matt Maniscalco is a painter, graphic designer, and resident artist and co-owner of Black Cloud Gallery in East Pilsen. Currently, his work is featured in Black Cloud’s April show, Embody, along with fellow figure artists Jennifer Cronin and Ian Mitchell Wallace. His paintings feature scenes from punk-rock concerts juxtaposed with simple geometric shapes in the center, creating a feeling of simplicity and tranquility within a scene of chaos. Another common theme in his body of work is the use of animals, inspired by his love of nature and home state of Michigan. Last week, I sat down with Matt to discuss his paintings, his involvement with Black Cloud, and some other projects that he has going on.

Lydia Shepard (LS): How long have you been painting?
Matt Maniscalco (MM): I started in High School. I was 17, so about 10 years now. I didn’t really like it when I first started, I really like doing black and white ballpoint pen stuff, but it just kind of grew on me.

LS: Did you go to school for Art?
MM: Yes, I went for illustration at Kendall College in Grand Rapids. At that illustration program, all of the teachers practiced illustration in the 1960’s-70’s before the age of computers, so everything they taught was traditional oil paintings and watercolors, so that’s where I really was introduced to things like rendering the human figure.

Manipulations, Oil - 36" x 36"

LS: From looking at your paintings, I have noticed common themes of animals and geometric shapes. Could you tell me a little about that?
MM: Michigan is a pretty rural area, so there are all sorts of animals everywhere. My friends and I used to go run around outside and be somewhat animalistic in that sense, so I think that has a lot to do with it. I always like to read about environmental issues and animal rights; I think that’s really interesting. I had a philosophy class in college, and there was a big section about animal rights and human rights, and what determines the rights of humans compares to the rights of animals. I find it kind of boring just to work with human figures, just because there are so many different variations of life forms on this planet. It’s an endless supply of imagery that you can use. With the geometric shapes, I just like the simplicity of them. I like the contrast between the organic forms and the clean, crisp edges of geometric forms. I think that it is a good compositional contrast between the two, and how it balances out. I really like that. Usually I like to keep it a solid color, not too complex on the inside, just to balance out what’s going on around it.

LS: What you’re saying about animal rights vs. human rights is interesting, because you also have a lot of people in your paintings.
MM: We interact with animals daily, whether or not we actually think that we do. Some people like to think that humans and animals are separate, but we all live on the same planet, and we do the same things, except we’re maybe more complex or have different habits. I always like to see that, to look at the broader view and figure that out. A lot of people do live with animals, and a lot of people love animals, but some people don’t at all. It’s a strange psychology behind it.

Black Cloud Gallery, located on South Halsted at 19th Street

LS: How long have you been involved with Black Cloud?
MM: I started showing here in December 2010 as a showing artist. Then they asked me last September to be a resident artist and co-owner, and to become more involved. Before I was just showing, but now I show, help hang, and do the graphic design part of it. It’s been great. It’s been a different experience from just the perspective of a showing artist just dropping off their artwork and signing a contract; you can see the inter-workings of what that contract means and how a lot of artists interpret it. The business side of it, and how to market a gallery, is all about who you know. 90% of it is networking with other people. People aren’t just going to come in and buy a few thousand-dollar paintings right off the bat. You have to develop a relationship with them and keep that contact alive.

LS: Tell me about your paintings for the Embody show.
MM: The images in the back of my paintings are all images from these punk shows that my roommate and I would host in our basement. We used to have this older house with a huge basement, and my roommates were in a punk band. The punk scene in Chicago is really close-knit and everyone knows each other. You can have shows every night if you wanted to, and people would come out. So we would have these shows on a weekly basis, and I would just take pictures. I finally got to use those pictures for this as a contrast between a simplistic form in the foreground and something really chaotic going on in the background, also the contrast between nature and human living. I like to experiment with different compositions. It was all about experimenting with it, and seeing what actually works.

LS: How long have you been living in Chicago for?
MM: About three years. These paintings may be my view on this. It’s really slow-paced in Michigan and everything is really laid-back. The city is a lot more fast-paced, and everything is happening so much faster. I think that was an influence behind it, with the simple forms in the foreground. I love going back to Michigan. As far as jobs and being successful, it’s so much harder to get connected with people back there. There’s not a whole lot of art going on, except in Detroit and Grand Rapids. In the smaller towns it’s really sparse, and it’s harder to get involved. But even still, it’s great to go back and relax, especially in the summer. You can go to the beaches and have a beach fire whenever you want, and no one will bother you.

Regrets, Oil - 36" x 36"

LS: Has the contrast of those been an inspiration for many of your paintings, going to Michigan to hang out and then coming back to Chicago where there is more going on?
MM: Yes. Both feed into what I want to be involved in. I never want to be in the city all the time; I need to go out and go camping and things like that. But when I go back home for a long period of time I get anxious and I want to do things, like I will want to get working on something, or go ride my bike around. It’s a give and take. It was nice living in Michigan, but it doesn’t fulfill what I want to do. Now I’m used to the pace of Chicago, and the convenience of it.

LS: What else can we expect to see from you in the future?
MM: I definitely want to do more of these. After I did these ones I took a break just because I also do book cover illustrations on the side. I’m not sure if I’m going to keep using these three shapes: the diamond, the triangle and the circle. Maybe I’ll explore different shapes, maybe a hexagon. I have folders and folders of these photos, so if I kept doing this I definitely wouldn’t run out. I want to keep doing figure paintings, and maybe combine animals with them. I think that is always going to be a pretty big theme in what I do, that interaction between them and us. After I finish my book covers, I’ll probably get started on a fourth one of these paintings.

LS: Do you think you will keep using images of the punk shows, or would you consider exploring other large gatherings of people to use?
MM: I was thinking about doing that. I really wanted to go down to the protests this summer and take pictures of everything that is going on there, because you would get that same amount of intense emotion. People are really driven with that, just like how people who are in punk and hardcore. When they are in it they are in it; it’s that or nothing else. With those types of protests you would get the same mentality. But I do still want to use a lot of these photos that I have, just because there are so many good ones of people making crazy faces. When I would take pictures, the next day we would all just go and look at them and zoom in on everyone’s faces. It was great. I was thinking about that too, like having a contrast between a big gathering and then a flock of birds in the middle, or a pack of hyenas, or some big grouping of something like that and then something really sparse in the background. Just to switch it up, and then experiment from there.

A book cover illustrated by Matt. (image curtesy of Matt Maniscalco)


LS: What kind of book covers do you do?

MM: Right now it’s a lot of Sci-Fi Fantasy book covers. Right now I’m doing a series of three for this guy who is writing about a post-apocalyptic world.

LS: It sounds like you have a lot of different creative outlets.
MM: Yes, I like to do a lot of different things. I like to learn different techniques and to not get stuck in one routine, or if one series of work is successful, to get stuck in that routine doing that one thing thinking that you are going to make a lot of money on that one thing. I think that you need to keep your mind active.

Embody will be on display at Black Cloud throughout the month of April.  To learn more about Matt Maniscalco, visit his website here.  To learn more about Black Cloud Gallery, visit the gallery website here.  

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4 Responses to " From Michigan to Chicago, Punk-Rock to Animals: An Interview with Matt Maniscalco "

  1. Andrew R. says:

    Excellent work Maniscalco! Congratulations! You’re a good guy with a lot of talent.

  2. Very cool to hear more about the inspiration behind the artwork. And yes, congratulations Matt! Super proud of you here in Saint Joe

  3. Congratulations, Matt. As an artist myself, you inspire me as I’m sure you do many others. Your work is f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s!

  4. Melissa says:

    Yay for Matt! He is a wonderful artist. 🙂

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