Ralph Fasanella celebrated the common man and tackled complex issues of postwar America in colorful, socially-minded paintings. Fasanella was born in the Bronx and grew up in the working-class neighborhoods of New York. He became a tireless advocate for laborers’ rights, first as a union organizer and later as a painter.
Fasanella’s parents were among three million Italians who immigrated to America in the early twentieth-century in search of a better life. They taught Ralph about the costs and rewards of hard work. The most lasting lessons they imparted were that family and community came before personal gain, that younger generations stood on the shoulders of those who came before them, and that all Americans could—and should—always fight for their rights.
Fasanella worked as a garment worker, truck driver, ice delivery man, union organizer and gas station owner before he committed himself to painting in 1945. Untrained as an artist, Fasanella developed an astute and accessible style meant to foster social empowerment. His large paintings were memorial tributes, didactic tools, and rallying cries that made the possibility of a better society palpable to his community.
Fasanella is often remembered for his iconic admonition: “Lest We Forget,” an impassioned plea to remember the sacrifices of our forebears. In 2014, the exhibition Ralph Fasanella: Lest We Forget, united the artist’s most powerful works in a celebration of the hundredth anniversary of his birth.