Ralph Fasanella is photographed by Maryanne Mott in 1990 while he is seated on a street bench in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The building in the far background was the site of the famous 1913 "Lawrence Bread and Roses Strike," the subject of one of Mr. Fasanella's paintings.
Ralph Fasanella (1914?1997)
Painter of the working people.
Ralph Fasanella was a self-taught painter whose body of work is one of the most
compelling artistic critiques of post-World War II America. His paintings are bold,
colorful, loaded with detail yet unified in composition, and speak powerfully
of a distinct working-class identity and culture, and of the dignity of labor.
They capture the past and express hope for the future.
Our Artistor collection includes four signed and numbered color lithograph prints of
Fasanella's paintings, which provides a quick look at the life and career of
this important American artist. Ralph Fasanella's paintings of America expose
the hugh influence for his art: his Italian immigrant family and neighborhood,
Catholic reform school, his work life, his involvement in progressive causes
such as the Spanish Civil War in which he fought, and his service on behalf of
organized labor for various unions under the CIO. Fasanella also served in the
United States Navy. Fasanella's development as an artist parallels
twentieth-century American social and political history.
When a friend suggested that he become a painter, Fasanella, then over thirty
years old, found his future. His 1948 painting May Day, "just came out of my
belly. I never planned it. I don't know how I did it." The painting shows
people of all colors and kinds streaming out of the streets and tenements
of New York marching together through Union Square.
Ralph Fasanella - short biography
McCarthy-era blacklisting left Fasanella unable to find work. He supported
himself by pumping gas at his brother's garage in the Bronx until his artistic
rediscovery in 1972. In October of that year he appeared on the cover of New
York Magazine which magazine devoted eight pages to the artist and his scenes
of working-class life, a major theme on which his reputation is built.
In the late 1980s, Ralph and his wife, poster publisher, and partner, Eva,
began an initiative called Public Domain to place Fasanella paintings
in public places. Today, as a result, visitors to the Great Hall at Ellis
Island in New York Harbor can see "Family Supper." In addition, "May Day"
is in the James Fenimore Cooper Museum in Cooperstown, New York.
"Subway Riders" is the only oil painting permanently installed in the New York
City subway. This painting is on display at the Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street
stop of the E and F trains in Manhattan.
"In this society you have to get up and fight for the betterment of mankind,"
says Fasanella. "The people who fought for mankind are my heroes."