“Mark Giangaspero was the closest thing to a prodigy,” says friend and fellow artist, Dr. Carl Gombert. “Talent is only a small piece of the pie. He was the hardest working student I have ever seen, and I have now been surrounded by art students for over 40 years. Bar none, Mark outworked them all.”
Giangaspero is a genius with images and space. His dedication has been to his mentor-teacher, Jack Richard, and to the visual arts. He dabbled in oil paints and pastels before studying art seriously at age 13. He says that no one in his family had artistic talent, even though he thought the painting of the Lord’s Supper that hung in his home was an original by his father. That was until a fellow student pointed out that it was a paint-by-number kit of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece.
Dino Massaroni, a classical artist in Akron says, “Mark was a young teen just starting to take lessons when I first met him. I recall that he was quite skillful at drawing even before receiving instruction.” Giangaspero focused on his art classes in school. However, learning there were workshops being held two blocks away, he skipped school to attend.
Giangaspero recalls two artists who had an effect on his work. Leroy Flint, known for abstract-genre figures and engravings, made lithographs of the Ohio River that were published in the 1930s for WPA. The other artist, William Beckman, a contemporary American painter known for the power of his figurative drawings, is one of America’s leading realist painters.
In 1975, Giangaspero was introduced to colorist, Robert Brackman, with whom he studied during the summer months at Madison Art School in Connecticut for five years, until Brackman’s death in 1980. This gave Giangaspero a new appreciation for color and the pastel medium.
After working with Brackman, Giangaspero started changing the way he thought about composition and painting in general. He was tired of doing what everyone else was doing in art, so he decided to go rogue with his ideas. He created a body of work that was larger than life in subject and composition. “It was obvious that Mark’s inborn abilities would steadily mature and that he would reach a professional competence that few achieve in such a short span of time,” says Massaroni.
Giangaspero’s painting has evolved, and his larger-than-life subjects seem to emerge from a moody ground. He wanted to get away from the usual convention of the figure. The paintings are still representational, but there is a different feeling when viewing a large face making strong eye contact from atop a nude body. One can’t help feeling the urge to look away, but only for a moment. Then something pulls the viewer back into the painting, and they are hooked.
Surprisingly, when this group of paintings hung at The Butler Museum in Youngstown, they were displayed with low light in the basement of the museum. It seemed unfair for such accomplished paintings to be hidden. But in order to display the paintings, they had to be out of normal museum traffic because they were so “controversial.” It seems the general public has difficulty distinguishing nude from naked. Despite that fact, The Butler Museum owns two of Giangaspero’s paintings.
Giangaspero’s wife, Shelley, a New York City-trained chef, is the chef for the Stow City Schools and a teacher of the Culinary Arts through their extensive vocational program. Shelley was diagnosed with breast cancer about the time Giangaspero was starting this large project of figures. Her portrait was the first. It depicts his wife going through her struggles with the disease. Art used as therapy was a way for both of them to work together through the grief and emotions of the illness, the treatment and healing processes. The result is compelling and expressive. The viewer responds to the emotion and the pain that is depicted by the creative ability and expertise of the hand of the artist. Picasso said that “the [artist’s] hand holds the power to alter the world.” Though not in the style of Picasso, Giangaspero’s paintings still push the envelope, forcing viewers to challenge their conventional ideas of visual art.
Dr. Carl Gombert adds, “Mark outworked [all my students]. Add to that his deep knowledge of the history of painting and his interesting and complex ideas, and you start to get a picture of just how good he really is.”