An Interview with artist/humanist Michael P. Maness, his gallery is a visual artistic encyclopedia of blues

 "The BLUES is the truth, the un-sugar-coated honesty we all face day to day, or even moment to moment."

Michael P. Maness: Coloring the Blues World

From the age of eight, Michael Patrick Maness has been drawing or writing something for somebody. From limited edition posters to album covers for "Warner Brothers," and "BNA" records, for over 30 years he has been in the business of art, advertising, and marketing. Michael has contributed stories and illustrations to regional and national magazines and has also worked for many Fortune 500 companies.

Since 1997 Michael has battled Lymphoma and Bone Marrow cancer. His struggle with cancer and the subsequent side effects made it impossible to continue his career in commercial art and marketing. However, because of his cancer, Michael has been reborn. He has discovered a new love, a new profession, and has rediscovered a long dormant talent for painting. Michael’s unique style and iridescent colors are indicative of a new passion for life and a unique interpretation of his surroundings. When Katrina Destroyed New Orleans, Michael had 15 paintings in the 940 Gallery in the French Quarter that are now floating in down some levee in Louisiana. To cap off 2005 was Hurricane Wilma. Just months before Michael had established a gallery to sell prints of Costa Maya Mexico to passengers of Cruise ships. The purpose was to build a small school-house for the residents of the tiny town. 2006 marked a fantasy for Mike, his first published song with acclaimed song writer/producer Doug Johnson, "If He hadn’t Died", a song about Mike’s experience with living and dying. He was also named the Official Artist for the Blues Music Awards.

2007 re-introduced Michael back to the World of marketing. He was still painting and raising money for now over 80 charities. The acclaimed artist, whose work graces the covers of magazines and movie posters around the globe, is a 2009 Keeping the Blues Alive recipient in the art and photography category.  Michael Patrick Maness lives in Southaven, MS. He has had several one man shows thought out the South. At present Mr. Maness’s goal is arranging art show’s to raise money for charities all across the world.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Credits & copyrights © Courtesy of Michael P. Maness

Michael, when was your first desire to become involved in art and the Blues music?

I love Music.  Music and Musicians a lyrical expression of an image; I’m just lucky enough to be able to capture that expression.  My connection with the International Blues Foundation began from a newspaper article.  I had just painted BB KING, and had a few hundred lithographs printed, when I read an article about the Blues Foundation needing some donations.  So I drove down to their offices in Memphis, Tennessee, double parked, and delivered one hundred Lithographs, to help them raise some much need funds.  A couple of years passed and John Hahn, Shemekia Copeland’s manager, emailed me and told me to expect a phone call from Jay Sielman, the Director of the Blues Foundation.  Jay asked me if I would be willing to paint the 2006 BMA Poster, I did, and I’ve been donating to and painting for the Blues Foundation ever since.

"I used to see the world in black and white, not a contrast of right and wrong, not in popular culture, but in light and shadow. Now because of changes in my life I see the world through a kaleidoscope."

What does Blues Folk Art mean to you and what does offer you?

I don’t paint folk art, my ART is more impressionistic.  But it offers me the chance to paint the colorful stars of the Blues World.  It lets me express my joy and love for the music, the beat, the soul, that erupts from the Blues Players.  Blues musicians don’t jump into the Music Business for fame and fortune, they play the Blues, because they LOVE it.  And they allow me to portray that love.

What do you learn about yourself from the colors, paintbrushes, music and Blues Folk culture?

I’ve a 16 year, 10 time cancer survivor, the Bright Colors I use were my savings grace from the torture and pain of Chemotherapy.  I’m also a writer, and in many cases I’ve lived the blues, which helps when I try and capture the Blues Artists essence.

What characterize the philosophy of your art and how do you describe Michael Maness art?

Contrast and color have always been staples of my life.  I look at the world from a different angle than most people do.  I see a different perspective, instead of a constant changing world, a crowd doing the expected; I draw the individual and focus on the individual spirit to tell a story.

 I used to see the world in black and white, not a contrast of right and wrong, not in popular culture, but in light and shadow.  Now because of changes in my life I see the world through a kaleidoscope.  I see the hues that make-up a color. I choose a subject to paint based on the mood I can create with my acrylic pallet.  I try to pick a story to paint rather than a moment passing through time.

What are some of the most memorable drawing you've had? What is it that draws (inspiration) you to paint an artist?

I’ve painted over 1000 paintings.  My best selling Lithograph is my Stevie Ray Vaughn that I painted in 2000.  My friend and photographer Ken Walker captured Stevie in film live in concert just weeks before he died.  And he gave me his photo to inspire me for the canvas.  My most memorable, or should I write my best stories are from my SONG SERIES of paintings.  In this series I paint my vision of a great songwriter’s song.  Before I begin I contact the songwriter, and we collaborate on the image.  They tell me who, what, where, why and how they created their hit.  From that information I created my vision.  If the singer is still alive, they autograph the ART as well.  We then donate the painting to charity.  To date my ART has raised over 4 million for over 150 charities all over the world.

When I paint a Blues Star, my inspiration is their emotion, when they perform on stage.  I prefer to paint the Musician in action while they sell a song.


From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the Blues Folk art and culture?

I had the pleasure to spend several hours with the Great Pinetop Perkins.  I sat like a little kid listening to a children’s book, as Pinetop told stories, about what was, what is, the difference 75 years made, and the great direction his manager Dr. Patricia Morgan helped him sail through the music business, and cement his image in the Music World, not only the Blues.  She helped the world open it’s eyes to this great showman.

What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?

All ART is a business.  When you get serious, find a good lawyer, a great and honest CPA, and manager who can be your trusted friend.  And it wasn’t a Bluesman.  It was Rocker.  It was Jimmy Griffen of the Rock, and POP band, BREAD..

You have come to known great bluesmen. It must be hard to pick, but which meetings have been the biggest experiences for you?

As a boy, in Omaha, Nebraska, I fell in love with the guitar licks of Steve Cropper on the song Green Onions.  Steve and his instrumental works inspired me to play the guitar.  Because of me getting involved with the Blues, and Charities, I was able to befriend Steve, his wife, and their children.  It still amazes me that I not only have met several of my childhood Idols; I’m now good friends with the idols from my youth.

"Blues musicians don’t jump into the Music Business for fame and fortune, they play the Blues, because they LOVE it. And they allow me to portray that love." (Photo: Michael & Hubert Sumlin)

Are there any memories from blues musicians where you have meet, which you’d like to share with us?

The great Hubert Sumlin and I once had a chat about death and dying.  We had both died for several minutes on a hospital table, so that gave us a topic to bond over.  Hubert, was lucky enough to have an out-of-body experience; in that he saw the next life.  I did not, but Hubert told me that if people really knew what waited for us in heaven, we would all be killing ourselves to discover heaven.

Who from the musicians you have drew and paint, had the easiest pure original attributes for your painting?

Bonnie Raitt.  When I put her on canvas, the painting flowed.  Time seemed to stand still, and everything I did worked.  I’m happy to say she was impressed with the ART, and I even got a hug.

Why did you think that the blues faces, culture and status of life, continues to generate such a devoted following?

The BLUES is real.  It’s the heart and soul of music.  It’s a life not seen through rose-colored glasses, but a life of the street.  It’s not a fantasy, it’s the truth, it’s raw blatant, brutal, honesty, with a great base line and lyric.

Which memory during of your progress makes you smile?

Just minutes ago I was onstage with Steve Cropper and the Blues Brother Original Band, at a benefit for the Great Base player Duck Dunn.  My ART, though only prints was able to raise thousands of Dollars for the Stax Academy, in Memphis, Tennessee.  My MOM was there and was able to see me on stage with a few of the Best of the Best in the Music World.  What makes me smile, is that me, a lucky Southern Gent who lives a life filled with color and creativity is able to help raise money, and influence people around the world.  You are introducing me and my thoughts to the people of one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known.  I’m honored that you asked me to contribute.

"Steve (Cropper) and his instrumental works inspired me to play the guitar. Because of me getting involved with the Blues, and Charities, I was able to befriend Steve, his wife, and their children."

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from your inspiration to make a painting?

Again, I’ve been privileged to work with some magnificent charities.  One of those being the International Children’s Heart Foundation; these Doctor’s and Nurse’s perform FREE heart surgeries on children, who without this medical procedure would be dead.   I get to paint HEARTS, all different kinds of hearts.  And those painting help a child, who I’ll never know, I’ll never meet, have a life.  That is my inspiration for my Heart Paintings.

What kind of music you hear when you painting and how does the blues music come out of your art?

When I paint a particular musician, I listen to that artist’s music as I paint.  Steve Cropper once said about my ART that you can hear the note that is being played. 

Who are your favorite musicians, old and new, would you like to meet and drew? What is your painting dream?

WOW,... I would have killed to have seen the Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Junior in concert.  I like to see the GREAT’s, the legends.   Two years ago at the Blues Music Award’s I stood backstage, just 20 feet away from Buddy Guy putting on a show with his guitar.  His hands were a blur.  The speed that he reach while bending the strings should have been enough for spontaneous combustion.  I expected I fire, a blaze, at least smoke to rise off those strings. 

I need NO dreams when it comes to ART.  If I think it up I can paint it.  NO dreams needed. 

What characterize the sound, faces, smells and colors of folk blues art?

My vision evokes my peculiar view of the world; BRIGHT, COLORFUL, Interesting, with a dash of hope.  I wish that you'd leave my canvas with a feeling of Ahh, Oooo, and if I did it a right...maybe a WOW.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is?

I already said that a few questions back.  The BLUES is the truth, the un-sugar-coated honesty we all face day to day, or even moment to moment.

What's the legacy of bluesmen on the case of art? The old Blues cats are more “ghosts”, “myths” or “legends”?

Being from America, and Deep South, I’ll call them tall tales.  Just like the story of Robert Johnson, the Devil, and the Crossing in Clarksdale Mississippi.  It gets more complicated with each telling of the tale.  It’s Faust with a little rhythm thrown in for good measure.

Which incident of your life you‘d like to be captured and illustrated in a painting?

I’d like to be able to capture my unconditional love for my MOM and my family.  I don’t think that I could ever capture that in one image, not matter how colorful my pallet is.

You are also known of your humanity work build a small school-house in Mexico, Memphis Food Bank, etc. Would you tell a little bit about that?

My philanthropy began when I had my Stem Cell Transplant in 1999.  As I lay in a hospital bed, knowing that my odds of surviving at that time unknown treatment were slim and none; I need to change my life.  I needed to jumpstart a legacy.  I decided while worrying about what could be, I needed to concentrate on what would be.  If I only had so long to live on this earth, and I wanted to somehow make a difference in it I had to begin now.  But what could I do.  At that time I drew, I wrote stories, and I loved to ballroom dance with a great partner.  I came up with a simple business plan.  To GIVE IT ALL AWAY; to donate my talent and help others who needed it more than I needed it.  Months passed, my chemo made me angry, violent, and paranoid, and I found in my room a canvas and some paint.  I painted a bright canvas, and that action calmed me down, and made me happy.  Since that moment, in April of 2000, I’ve only painted canvas’s that would make the viewer go um,.ahhh, bring a grin to their face, or inspire a WOW.  The buildings in Mexico were a direct influence of my past career in advertising and marketing, and my current situation as an artist.  Both seemed to collide one sunny day in March in a Bar in Costa Maya Mexico.  I had an idea, and a few folk listened, believed, and then instituted the concept into a reality.  Again, as in most of my tales of WOW; I was lucky enough to be in the right place, at the right time with the right tools, and the right audience, to create something that inspired, influenced, or challenged someone to make something amazing happen.

Michael P. Maness - Official website

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