Much of my father’s work was deeply influenced by his favorite twentieth century composers. As a child, I would sit listening to the music of Stravinsky, Puccini, Holst, Debussy, and Ravel, mingled with turpentine fumes pouring from beneath the closed door of his studio. Like an alchemist, my father made music appear in pigment on canvas: stroke by whimsical stroke he transformed Fauré’s Garden of Dolly into a gouache composition; he created a series of paintings in various mediums depicting each of Holst’s Planets. But the music of Debussy and Ravel moved him most. In colored inks he illustrated the story of Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum, a piece from Debussy’s Children’s Corner. Depicting the rolling piano repetitions at the opening of this piece, my father painted a little girl who is bored practicing her scales drifting off into a fantasy land where she and her cat meet the good Doctor Gradus Ad Parnassum (I am the model for this one, though he no doubt imagined the piano player to be Debussy’s young daughter, Chou Chou); In Children’s Corner, he painted a bust of the young Chou Chou, again, a strong resemblance to me. In the last years of his life, my father began to use gouache to capture the musical pieces that moved him the most, including Debussy’s La Mer, and Ravel’s Nactuelles.
Layers of Rome
After painting sets for USO shows throughout the Korean War, my father traveled around Europe before attending the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at Oxford University in the fall. Though he told fantastic stories of traveling with gypsies in Spain and smoking his first cigarettes in Paris cafes, Rome became his creative Mecca, his metropolitan muse. Merging ancient and modern structures, ghostly Roman soldiers, girls in twentieth century garb, and mythical creatures emerging from stone pediments, my father’s paintings brought into relief the layers of history and legend he saw animating this ancient city (see for example, Rome). He traveled back several times over the course of his life, and even lived there for ten months in 1966 with my mother, Sylvia, and my then four-year-old brother, Paul (I wasn’t yet born).
But my father also had a strong connection with France. His view of Paris was colored by the music of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy and he paid tribute to their work and their lives in paintings spanning nearly thirty years. He painted the 19th C. Paris that he imagined they inhabited, as in Le Jardin One and Two. Southern France was home to many of the 19th and 20th C. artists he admired most: Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gaugin. In 1993 he spent a year living in the center of Aix en Province, also known as “La Ville D’Eau” (the city of water) for its many public fountains. There he was inspired to paint mostly in gouache and watercolors, see for example, Monet in His Garden and The Grand Fountain.
My father seemed to gravitate toward gouache when he entered his nomadic phase. It began around 1987 when he determined that he would never again earn a buck by washing dishes or sweeping up. Rather, he would earn his living by painting, which is to say, for once, his living would have to adjust to his painting and not the other way around. Unfortunately, working as an artist would not support a dignified, year-round existence in the U.S. So, during the warm months, my father lived in Province Town, Cape Cod, where he found a steady patron and made enough to live on for the rest of the year outside of the country. In the cold months, he worked on his own paintings, mostly in San Miguel, Allende, in central Mexico—though one year, in 1993, he went to South of France, and near the end of his life just a few years later, he got one more visit in to his beloved Rome.
It was during this ten-year period of light travel and regular boarder crossings that my father did dozens of small gouache paintings, many of them renderings of the music he loved; others, such as The Grand Fountain, Sea Sketch, and Monet in his Garden were inspired by his travels; but many simply sprang from his fancy, such as Cosmos, Abstract Sketch and From Another World.
Uncle Morris and Aunt Lillian he did some time in the early 1970s. He told me they were our distant relatives from Russia. I knew he was telling one of his yarns, but as a kid I still believed that they were part of our family somehow (After rereading E.L. Doctorow’s historical fiction novel, Rag Time, I think Probably Aunt Lillian may have been modeled after Lillian Gish, “The Girl on a Swing...”). The pieces featured here are a small representation of his large and diverse works in oil and acrylics. He kept in practice by painting scenes from Alice in Wonderland, Mother Goose, and my brother’s toys. He painted portraits, gas stations and bars, and fantastic, magical lands with human-limbed trees and alligators in the streets. Documenting my father’s work is an ongoing process and I will add more of these works in the months to come, so check back every now and then!
My father’s work was drenched in color and he prided himself on being able to accurately capture the light and color of things. He didn’t sign his name to many of his pencil sketches, but I did find a few, including a framed pencil rendition of M. Leon.
After his death in September 1997 I went with my father’s closest friend, Paul Van Apeldoorn, to collect his affairs from his small studio in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. What I found was a collection of bags, envelopes, folders and folios filled with newspaper clippings, painting price lists, drafts of bios for shows, sketches, reference images torn from magazines and art books, photos of friends and family, letters (some that my father had written to his parents when he was in Europe on the GI bill and that he must have collected—much I as I was then doing—from their effects after their passing). In addition, my father had been working on three large oil paintings based on his final trip and photos of Rome. This section includes a smattering of what I found in his studio in late September, 1997.
Every summer from 1987-1997 my father convinced Ronny Hazel, proprietor of Shop Therapy – a gritty tourist shop in the heart of Provincetown – that he needed more murals on his shop. Soon the building was completely covered, with little space to spare (sometime in the last ten years Ronnie has had other artists paint over the original work on the front of the building, so not all of the work is still my father’s).
In 1971 my parents decided to move our family to the tiny town, Sidney (and later
Bainbridge) about 3 hours west of New York City. During our six years of living in a
one factory town with a bar and a church on every corner, my father painted lots of
murals and portraits. I remember walking home from the town pool in the summer
with my older brother, Paul, and seeing my father painting abandoned gas stations
and other lonely, Hopper-esque scenes. More of these works will be featured on this
site in the future.
• The photo of the man is standing in a bar my father frequented, but the scene behind him is a painting of the bar that my father did for the establishment proprietors (to pay an outstanding tab??)
• The photo of my dad in front of a painted wall is a mural he painted in our dining room in an old, creaky farm house we live in for one year.
• Newspaper clipping of an America the Beautiful grant my father received to paint a mural depicting the evolution of human life for the local public school.
In addition to collecting my father’s effects from San Miguel in 1997, I also brought back his ashes from the American Consulate. We held a wake at the Old Homestead, Paul Van Apeldoorn’s house in Province Town. Dozens of people came and shared their memories and celebrated my father’s life and art. My father’s ashes sat in a box in my apartment for another five years. In 2002, my mother, Sylvia, my brother, Paul, and I took a trip to Rome to free my father, the Nomad, in the city of his dreams, the avenues of living history where he so longed to be. We walked around for several days, spreading small fist fulls of his ashes in various locations around town, documenting each spot immediately afterward. Finally, my father’s dear friends who he met on his first visit to Rome in 1958 and remained close with throughout his life, Silvana and Bruno Mandolesi-Ferrini, took us to their summer home outside of Rome where we buried my father’s remaining ashes under a tree in their yard.
One of the worst things about losing my father was realizing that I'd never see another new painting again. But soon after this site went up, I began receiving pictures of works I'd never seen before. It has been such an amazing gift to me and I wanted to share that with the world. Thank you so much to all of you who sent messages and pictures. Please feel free to contact me if you see a picture of a painting you sent and would like to add or correct any information to the brief descriptions I cooked up. Feel free to share this site with others who you think would enjoy it. And, of course, if you or someone you know has any artwork by my father, please consider taking a picture and sending it along to firstname.lastname@example.org. It means a lot to me and to Bob Gasoi fans everywhere!