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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Folk Art: Folk Painting: Adam and Eve
Victor Joseph Gatto

Victor Joseph Gatto

(born New York City 1893 -- died Miami, FL 1965)

“I can paint anyt’ing---deep sea pitchers, jungles, wild horses, even heaven. An’ I ain’t no copy artist. I can paint it all outa my head.” Victor Joseph Gatto, “Joe Gatto, Primitive,” Winthrop Sargeant, Life, November 8, 1948

When Victor Joseph Gatto was only eight years old, Theodore Roosevelt visited his school and told him he was “the best drawer” in his class. Gatto had to work to support his family, however, and held a variety of odd jobs that included becoming a prizefighter at the age of eighteen. He worked as a steamfitter during World War II, but had to quit because of a “herny” (hernia). He discovered that sidewalk artists in New York’s Washington Square made up to six hundred dollars a year and immediately decided he could do better. He bought some cheap brushes and paints, set up an easel on the back of a chair and, using an old plate as a palette, began to paint images of fantasy jungles, cities, and landscapes. When critics told Gatto that his work resembled that of French primitive painter Henri Rousseau, he simply replied: “The guy’s been stealin’ my stuff for years.” (Gene Epstein, “The Art and Times of Victor Joseph Gatto,” The Clarion, Spring 1988)

Image Credits: © 1955 Sterling Strauser.