Visual Arts

Spotlight: Rio Mansour

by / Dec. 8, 2015 11pm EST

 Twitter: @splash_oncanvas 

It’s a Friday night
and a group of about 15 or 20 people are assembled in a wide open room with picture windows overlooking Main Street. They’re there for a night of painting and drinking, but this isn’t your typical paint night; this is a paint night led by Rio Mansour, and Mansour does things a little differently. “My main medium is coffee,” he tells me as we sit in Ashker’s Juice Bar on Elmwood. Each Friday he invites a group to Ashker’s new location at the corner of Main Street and West Ferry (1526 Main Street)  for drinks—juice provided by Ashker’s Juice Bar—and painting. Except you won’t find any actual paint here, just double brewed coffee and coffee grounds, which Mansour teaches his students to paint with. This week we talked to Mansour about how exactly he paints with coffee and what inspired him to paint 40 paintings in 10 days. 

How does one paint with coffee?
You have to brew it first and then let it sit for a day. To create shades of coffee, different types, I just mix it with water. The main thing is to use the coffee grounds. The grounds give it the texture and make it easier to control. The longer the pot of coffee sits, the more coffee grounds it collects. In Arabic culture we have our own type of coffee; it’s more like an espresso, and once the cup is done, they have a tradition where they grab the cup and flip it upside down. After a few minutes the cup will stain, and they pick the cup up and start reading what the picture is. It’s like reading tea leaves.

Why did you decide to start painting with coffee?
I was really influenced by my cousin, Issam Philippe. There aren’t many coffee painters. Going from my culture—I’m Lebanese—and being influenced by my cousin, I just thought it would be so unique and different than using an oil-based paint. It was kind of weird because I picked it up so fast. It’s much harder to paint than with acrylic paint, though. Acrylic is much easier to control. Coffee is much more delicate. It runs on canvas much faster. The less you have on your paintbrush, the easier it is to control. 

And now you do a weekly paint night where you teach people to paint with coffee.
It takes place at Main Street and Ferry, at Angelo Ashker’s new space. He’s the best guy ever. If everyone in the city was an angel like him, this would be the most successful city ever. So we host paint night every Friday. Every Friday it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. A ticket gets you a two-hour session, a coffee painting, and Ashker’s juice and hors d’oeuvres. 

What other styles of painting do you do?
I have three different collections. One is the sports-abstract paintings. I also do a lot of splash painting when I use acrylic. I have a collection called “Love Beats Everything.” The main reason I made this collection is because I feel like people are just so carried away in life with beauty. I have a lot of friends who just want to get into relationships, get married, have kids; but all they look for in the world is beauty. They don’t really look for the heart, so they keep getting their heart broken. Stop looking for the walking mannequin. Start loving for the heart first. Your face, your beauty is bound to change. Your heart stays the same.

How did you get into painting?
As a kid I was always drawing. I went to Buffalo State and studied fine arts. After college I tried to pursue art as my career, but it was tough. I went on and started a collection business. But I wasn’t happy. I was doing it for the money, not for the love. At the time, I was into playing poker, and I met a gentleman at a casino who said he was going to Chicago for an art show—a convention. He said that it was sold out but I could jump in his booth. It was 10 days away. He said to come with 20 paintings. So I picked up all of my poker chips and ran home. For 10 days I was in my garage all day and night and I knocked out 40 paintings. 

How did you find the inspiration to create 40 paintings so quickly?
Well, I had no job. I was 27 years old; I had to figure out what to do with my life. There were supposed to be 20,000 people at the convention, so that motivated me. I painted everything Chicago. All of the sports teams. There were athletes there signing autographs, so I wanted to make something that people could have signed. There were a thousand booths, people selling art and memorabilia. So I posted up to sell my art, but it didn’t go well. It was a national convention. For three days I didn’t see one person from Chicago. Everyone wanted their hometown team. Finally, on the third day, I sold six pieces. But I was interviewed by a journalist there and he wrote an article about me and a few other artists, which made it all worth it. On the long drive home, I was inspired to start my art business.

Which is called Splash on Canvas Art. Tell me about that. 
This is a custom art business. I do custom art for weddings, kids’ parties, private events for companies. For the wedding gig I provide an abstract splash painting. I create a template based on the couple’s personality and the theme of the wedding. Then I paint a design on the canvas. Once I finish it, I bring it to the wedding. During cocktail hour I present it and all of the guests take a splash bottle and splash the canvas. By the time all of your guests splash, the canvas is done. After cocktail hour, I clean it up a little and I present  it during dessert time. So the bride and groom now have something so memorable that they can hang it up on the wall, and it was done by everyone who was a part of the wedding.