Iceman Crucified
1972
Ralph Fasanella The Italian American "Grandma Moses".


Born in New York City of a working class family from Bari, Italy, Ralph Fasanella(1914-1998) was deeply influenced by the misfortunes that afflicted his father who was an iceman and his mother, a buttonhole maker. He witnessed their travails as they struggled to earn a living for the family that left a deep and indelible impression of the exploitation of working people. A witness to their backbreaking work when he accompanied his father on his rounds and visited the garment factory where his union activist mother worked, their travails would later find their expression in his art. Because of persistent truancy he also spent time in a Catholic reform school. Becoming involved in left-wing anti-fascist activities, in 1937 Fasanella joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade that fought against Fascist forces in Spain. Upon his return to New York he became a union organizer for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. Although he did not have formal training, in his thirties he realized that he possessed not only a talent at sketching but also was so enthralled with the aptitude that he spent increasing amount of time executing drawings and paintings. The question of how to support himself while devoting more of his life to art was resolved by his two brothers who owned a gas station in the Bronx where he worked part-time. Fasanella worked in relative obscurity until 1972 when at age 58 respected art critics not only discovered his works but also deemed them worthy of public attention. His great gift was to transform an assembly of detail into a unified feeling; it was the basis for a cover story in New York, in which the magazine hailed his "primitive" canvasses as treasures. His paintings, described as forceful and complicated, frequently occupy large canvases that reflect his life experiences -the "Iceman Crucified", for example, depicts the agony of his father's life, while his "Campaign –Lucky Corner" details Italian American Vito Marcantonio's campaign for New York City mayor that he supported. Other memorable paintings portray life in the refectory, the excitement of a baseball field, the plight of workers, Dallas on the day of President Kennedy's Assassination - all rendered with enormous detail and color. Fasanella's love-hate relation with the Church is reflected in many of his works that are replete with representations of crosses and stained-glass windows. In a word Fasanella's art is personal and symbolic. It abounds with the hectic and complex life of New York and the entanglement of growing up in an Italian environment. It is also a statement about the political and ideological currents of his time. It is a corpus of art that earned him the title as the Italian American "Grandma Moses."




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