In the 1800s,Los Angeles used to have a vibrant Little Italy located in the historic center of the city, a place today known as El Pueblo de Los...
John Asaro, a native Californian of Sicilian descent has a special place in his heart for Little Italy’s Piazza Famiglia, so much so that he will be donating 50% of all sales from his latest art exhibit being held at Meyer Fine Art through August 1st. His largesse is also reflected in the huge amount of time, effort and work that he has put into this show. According to gallery owner, Perry Meyer, 104 hangings were initially hung with special prominence given to Asaro’s special interpretation of The Last Supper, a huge 7x12 feet art piece on canvas. While speaking of this work, Asaro stated, “This is my idea of how Michelangelo might have painted The Last Supper.”
“Six paintings were sold already, by walk-in customers, on the first day,” remarked an excited Meyer, who still had nail and hammer in his hand for the last hanging.
Piazza Famiglia, the recipient of Asaro’s generous 50% donation, is a collaborative development between the Little Italy Association and developer H.G.Fenton and is based on the traditional piazzas of Italy. The site is being built at an enormous cost, but with great enthusiasm by the Little Italy Association. It will contain public seating areas, a large, central fountain and shops for market vendors will surround the area. “The work is coming along, and is bigger and better than we thought it would be,” commented Danny Moceri native of Little Italy and manager of Filippi’s Italian Restaurant.
In Asaro’s book, A New Romanticism, also available at the exhibit he features approximately 100 pieces of his work which are mostly oils. Here the artist is featured with much of his work as Illustrator, Teacher, Westerner, Family Man and Traveler. The book also depicts artistically rendered photographs of his eclectic work including paintings and renderings from his travels in and around San Diego beaches, Italy (mostly Venice and Sicily) and several dancers.
“My parents were from Sicily, but I was born in the USA,” said Asaro, adding “I go back there often to visit relatives and friends. The artist says he has been drawing and painting ever since he can remember, and according to his book, “the young artist poses with his oeuvre and his Schwinn [in] July 1947. While growing up in San Diego he twice won the Optimist Prize at San Diego’s County fair in 1947 and 1948. “I’m having more fun now than I ever did,” stated Asaro, recalling that although gainfully employed in major cities of New York, Detroit and Los Angeles, “I didn’t like the work I was doing back then.” At that time the artist was employed doing ads, book and record covers.
“I remember that I always feared fine art and galleries, but I hated commercial art enough to make the move,” recalled the artist. “I got a job at the Art Center College in Pasadena in the 1950s and later taught in the 1970s, and got married there,” recalled Asaro. “If you’ve ever lived here, you know why I came back to San Diego. Asaro lives with his wife and two daughters in his Carlsbad Studio and home, barely 20 miles from his boyhood neighborhood.
Although teaching provided an income, the artist said “You’ve got to keep them happy, and teaching can be very stressful. You’ve also got to be an entertainer,” he recalls. While teaching, Asaro developed teaching material that is still online and in bookstores. “That’s where I am now,” said Asaro who has also had a book published of more traditional materials, “a bigger book work with more contemporary art,” and is currently “involved with an out of state gallery.”
On a more nostalgic note, Asaro recalled the paintings he did of recently deceased songwriter and singer Amy Winehouse. “I did about 20 paintings of her singing. They were put together like two short movies, each about four minutes long.” Not having ever met Winehouse, he had his daughter model for him. “She [Winehouse] used to wear The Star of David to please her Jewish family and viewers,” he recalled.
Current and future goals for the native son of San Diego include his exhibit at the Meyer Art Gallery and aspirations to get into “major contemporary galleries.”