By Carolyn Edlund
Injured in a diving accident at the age of 14, Baltimore native Rob Florio hasn’t let his disability stop him – he focuses on his ability instead. Artsy Shark caught up with this inspiring young artist for an interview about life, his work and his future.
AS: How did you get started with your art?
RF: I was 14 when I injured my spinal cord after diving into a swimming pool. I got my first mouth stick about two years after my injury. I was 16 years old. I was practicing with watercolors and I painted an almost exact replica of my bonsai tree.
It was very difficult and frustrating, but every day I got better and I started to paint my favorite tropical locations where I could escape from reality. My first oil portrait was of my dog, and after everyone saw my talent I started getting requests for portraits. It was a very long journey starting with friends and family recognizing my abilities.
I studied the human form at my local community college in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. From there, my interest in art grew. I graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh online with a Bachelor’s degree in video game art and design. I could not ignore the path I chose. Every painting I complete gets better and better.
AS: Tell us about your work with the Association of Foot and Mouth Painting Artists.
RF: The Association recognizes the talent of artists who paint with their feet and mouth all over the world. It’s a great opportunity for people with disabilities to establish themselves and showcase their work while getting paid.
I started working with them when they accepted me in 2012. I feel very happy and rewarded finally as an artist. My style is very unique, with bright colors, sunsets and silhouettes, landscapes and portraits. Every day I look forward to getting up out of bed and painting.
My goal is to create the best artwork they have ever seen. It helps to have skill and ability at a high level when working with them. The opportunity that comes with working for them creates a sense of responsibility to maintain a high level of quality in my work. For any artist, recognition and a chance to stand out is an intense amount of inspiration.
AS: What happened when you started creating art featuring sports legends?
RF: I started creating sports legends portraits because it was a way for me to reconnect to favorite sports I loved to play before my injury. I created friendships with athletes like former Baltimore Oriole Jay Gibbons and Baltimore Ravens former field goal kicker Matt Stover. Local news would pick up the stories and share my artwork and my story.
People are inspired by my artwork and want to know more about me. I have painted Cal Ripken Jr., Dennison Cabral, Babe Ruth, Matt Stover, Jay Gibbons, Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis, Brian Roberts and soon more.
AS: What are you working on now?
RF: I’m working on a comic book story with a Christmas theme. My goal is to turn it into a video game and travel the country inspiring people and giving people with disabilities back their freedom to enjoy a video game. I always have more paintings to complete for the Association of Foot and Mouth Painting Artists. And I really enjoy painting portraits of superheroes. I completed the Incredible Hulk for the Baltimore Comic-Con. Now I’m finishing the Avengers painting.
AS: Where can people see more of your artwork?
RF: You can go to my website. My artwork is exhibited in the Baltimore area for now. You can get a copy of my autobiography titled LIFE! It Must Be a Comedy. You can purchase artwork or make a donation, and you can even enjoy some of my comedy. If you have any questions, please send me a message.
Connect with artist Rob Florio on Facebook here.