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Ralph Fasanella's America


"Know your roots. Remember who you are"

Ralph Fasanella (1914-1997)


The New-York Historical Society, in association with the New York State Historical Association, is hosting a major retrospective on the life and work of folk artist and labor activist Ralph Fasanella.

Ralph Fasanella's America, which runs March 1 - July 14, 2002, contains fifty examples of the artists' greatest work. A second-generation Italian-American immigrant, Fasanella painted what he knew: New York's garment industry, its diverse ethnographic make-up, trade unionism and grassroots American politics. Fasanella captured the struggles and triumphs of working people in large, colorful, and detailed paintings. Appropriately, the paintings in this exhibition illustrate both Fasanella's culture and the manner in which he chose to immortalize it. The project will also include a variety of public programs designed to explore working class history, immigrant life, and Fasanella's work in depth. A 176 page, fully-illustrated book will accompany the exhibition. (left: Gas Station)

Culled from several different collections, the exhibition includes the most significant paintings from the 1940s through the 1990s. The catalog will include a biographical essay, color illustrations, and a checklist of all the paintings in the exhibition. By treating Fasanella's work in a comprehensive manner, this exhibition demonstrates how the artists's life and times influenced his art. The curator is Paul S. D'Ambrosio, Chief Curator of the Fenimore Art Museum, who is the leading expert on Fasanella. right: Grey Day)


About the artist

Ralph Fasanella was a self-taught artist who created a stunning and diverse body of work depicting labor history, American politics, and urban working-class life. As he had no formal training of any kind, his works bear a visceral and direct relationship to the culture of the streets. tenements and sweatshops. Fasanella was born to Italian immigrants in New York City. His father was an ice deliveryman and his mother worked in the garment delivery industry, The most formative influences on Fasanella's life were his parents: his father introduced him to the physical rigors of working-class life, while his socially-conscious mother taught him about working-class struggle and the value of self-education, Fasanella's political beliefs were radicalized by the Great Depression, and he became active in anti-fascist and trade-unionist causes, His anti-fascist zeal lead him to volunteer for duty in the International Brigades fighting fascism in Spain, where he served from 1937 to 1938, Upon his return to New York City, Fasanella became an organizer for various unions.

In 1944, disillusioned by the labor movement and plagued by a painful sensation in his fingers, Fasanella started to draw. The result was an immediate outpouring of creative energy; Fasanella left organizing and began to paint full time. He painted obsessively, capturing the vibrant moods of the city and the tumult of American politics. For a brief time he received some critical notice for his work, and he befriended such artists as Robert Gwathmey and Ad Reinhardt. In 1950 he married Eva Lazorek, a schoolteacher who supported the couple through more than two decades of artistic obscurity and blacklisting by the FBI. In 1972 Fasanella was featured in New York magazine and in an illustrated coffee-table book Fasanella's City. His large-scale, intricate paintings of urban life and American politics were then introduced to art critics and the public.

In the late 1970s, Fasanella spent two years in Lawrence, Massachusetts, researching the 1912 Bread and Roses strike, The result was a series of eighteen paintings depicting the life of the mill town's diverse Immigrant populations and the events of the strike. The Lawrence series represents one of the largest and most significant bodies of historical painting by any American self-taught artist. In the 1980s and 1990s, Fasanella largely painted scenes that refined familiar subjects, such as urban neighborhoods, baseball and labor strikes. He died on December 16, 1997.

See our earlier article Fun City: Celebrating the Life of Ralph Fasanella (5/21/00).

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the New-York Historical Society in Resource Library Magazine.

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2002 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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