Ralph Fasanella (1914-1997) was a self-taught painter whose body of work represents one of the most compelling artistic critiques of post-World
War II America. His paintingsbold, colorful, loaded with detail
yet unified in compositionspeak 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.
Fasanella had an artistic vision born of a working life. A child
of Italian immigrants, he spent his youth delivering ice with his
father and enduring the harsh regimen of a Catholic reform school.
During the Depression, Fasanella worked in garment factories and
as a truck driver. From his mothera literate, sensitive, and
progressive womanFasanella acquired a social conscience. This was the period when the rise of fascism represented a growing threat to both democracy and trade unionism, and through her influence, he became active in anti-fascist and trade union causes.
Soon after he began to paint in 1945, Fasanella mastered a style
that allowed him to communicate visually with workers. He captured
a profusion of familiar details, boldly showed interiors and exteriors
simultaneously, and combined past, present and future. Fasanellas art
became the visual equivalent of street talkdirect, opinionated,
improvisational, and passionate.
In his paintings, Fasanella sought to provide a blueprint for humankind
to change the world. Fasanellas Americathe one he never
found but never stopped searching forlay between memory and
vision, between loss and hope. Realizing the promise of America
required understanding and acknowledging our heritage, sorting out
its best qualities, celebrating its triumphs and memorializing its
losses. In merging the interests and values of the individual with
those of the collective, Fasanella transforms his family into ours
and his street into ours, and permits us to share his vision of
a humane, democratic America that values both culture and community.
Labor Arts would like to thank Paul S. D'Ambrosio, Chief Curator
of the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown, New
York, who contributed much of the text for this exhibit, and Marc
Fasanella, whose enormous dedication to his father's artistic legacy
helped make this exhibit possible.
See D'Ambrosio's book Ralph Fasanella's America (Fenimore
Art Museum, 2001) for further information.
See the Bread
and Roses Cultural Project for posters.