Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Creator: Michele Falanga


Frank Frazetta’s Art Teacher

Michele Falanga was born in Torre del Greco, Naples, Italy on July 5, 1867.
[1] He studied first with artist Michele Tedesco, then at the Istituto di Belle Arti in Naples with Stanislao Lista, Domenico Morelli and Filippo Palizzi. [2] Tedesco (1834-1917) was a student of Morelli. [3] Lista (1824-1908) was a sculptor. [4] Two of the leading Neapolitan painters of the 19th century were Morelli (1823–1901) [5] and Palizzi (1818-1899). [6] Falanga continued his studies in Rome. [7] He married Virginia Ciavolino [8] in 1898. [9]

In 1901 Falanga was a passenger aboard the S.S. Trojan Prince, bound for the United States; he arrived in New York on August 25.
[10] His wife followed in 1902. [11] Between the years 1904 and 1907 the couple had three children, two daughters and a son. [12] In 1915 Falanga was a self-employed artist who had a room at 335 Broadway in Lower Manhattan. [13] He lived at 143 Summit Street [14] in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. In 1917 his office was located at 45 John Street. [15] From the mid- to late teens Falanga's paintings could be purchased at the Abraham and Strauss department store in Brooklyn. [16]

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 24, 1916

According to the 1920 Census the Falanga family lived at 150 Summit Street in Brooklyn. [17] In 1923 the Leonardo da Vinci Art School opened at 288 East 10th Street in Manhattan. General Director Onorio Ruotolo, a sculptor, said “the purpose of the school was to teach young craftsmen to become artists.” [18] Falanga was in charge of drawing and painting; the courses included sculpture, interior decoration, architecture, geometry, woodcutting, cabinet-making, wrought-iron, fashion designing, fashion-plate drawing, electricity, embroidery design, history of art, and anatomy. [19] The New York Times described Falanga’s contribution to the school's opening:
The chief object of interest was a floral carpet made in the manner of a Renaissance mosaic from the crushed petals of flowers. The whole symbolized “The Nativity.” The carpet was created on the floor and a puff of wind will blow it to pieces. It covers 500 square feet and took eight months to complete. Michele Falanga, called the “flower wizard,” was the designer. [20]
Iowa City Press Citizen,
December 28, 1923

Springfield Republican, January 6, 1924

That same year he opened a branch of the school in Brooklyn. [21] The art school had its own magazine, Leonardo, Annual Magazine of the Leonardo da Vinci Art School. The 1924–1925 issue included reproductions of Falanga’s paintings and sketches.

Leonardo, page 91

Leonardo, page 91

Leonardo, page 92

Leonardo, Plate 4

Leonardo, Plate 23

Leonardo, Plate 13

In 1927 Falanga became a United States citizen. [22] The following year he exhibited in a group show of Italian sculpture and paintings at the Bowery Savings Bank, in Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhood. The New York Sun praised his paintings.
If you go to this art show on the Bowery you will take special notice of Michele Falangas Mulberry street life. Young Falanga painted these on summer mornings, when the light was just right—hot and golden upon the markets an pushcarts, and the close-pressed, colorful, chattering throng. He had to hide himself within a closed automobile to be able to paint at all (otherwise he would have been mobbed by the curious), and there he sat, scrooged up with palette and paints, while he put down in line and color his impressions of this little bit of old Italy in the heart of New York. There's a touch of Sorolla in these pictures—the sunlight is so golden and clear and the sense of movement in the figures is so actual. [23]
In 1930 the Falangas resided at 238 Carroll Street in Brooklyn. [24] From 1932 to 1934 he was chairman of the Leonardo da Vinci Art School in Manhattan. [25] Atlantica, a periodical about Italian life and culture, reported on a 1933 event at the school.
Mayor and Mrs. F.H. La Guardia were the guests of honor last month at the opening of the semi-annual exhibition of the Da Vinci Art Club at the Leonardo Da Vinci Art School, 149 East 34th St., New York City. The Mayor was one of the original donors for the founding of the school. He was greeted by the schools director, Attilio Piccirilli, noted sculptor, and by Michele Falanga, head of the painting department, and Giuseppe Caggiano, head of the architecture department. [26]
In 1935 Falanga renamed the Leonardo da Vinci Art School, in Brooklyn, as the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts, located at 85-87 Court Street. The opening of his new school was inaugurated with an exhibition of 51 works by its founder and director. [27] (Knowingly or unknowingly he had revived the name of the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts, that had been formed during the mid-1800s.) [28]

Il Carroccio, January 1935

The book, Art Education in the City of New York: A Guidance Study, had this description of the academy.
Michele Falanga, instructor. Founded 1935. Occupies a floor in a small business building. Individual instruction; open all year daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; in summer there are outdoor classes on Sunday. Subjects include Painting and Drawing from life and still life; Charcoal drawing from cast; Fashion Illustration; Pictorial Composition. Tuition, monthly day $8; evening $6. [29]
Falanga was profiled in the 1936 edition of Italian-American Whos Who, Volume 2. [30] That same year Frank Frazetta began formal art instruction at the academy; his recollection of that occasion:
Upon the insistence of one of my teachers, my parents enrolled me in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts when I was eight years old. The Academy was little more than a one floor–three room affair with a total of thirty students ranging in age from (you guessed it) eight to eighty. I still remember the Professor's look of skepticism as I signed in. You could easily imagine him thinking, ‘Oh no! Not another child prodigy!! Nevertheless, he sat me down with a pencil and paper and asked me to copy a very small picture postcard which contained a realistically rendered reproduction of a group of ducks. When he returned later on to see how far I had progressed, he took one look at my drawing, snatched it up exclaiming, ‘Mama Mia, and ran off waving the drawing in the air and calling everyone to come and look at it. [31]
According to the 1930 Census the “Alfred Farzzetta” family of three lived at 1203 Avenue Y in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. [32] The distance from their home to the academy was about eight-and-a-half miles. Falanga was impressed by Frazetta’s talent and, years later, made preparations for him to study in Italy. [33] Unfortunately Falanga’s death ended that plan; he died February 1, 1942, at his home, 383 Clinton Street, Brooklyn. Falanga was survived by his wife and three children. [34]

Brooklyn Daily Eagle,
February 2, 1942
The death certificate is here

Frazetta recalled what happened after Falanga’s death.
My professor was Michael [sic] Falanga, and he was really a marvelous artist. When I was twelve, he died. Just as he was about to send me off to Italy to study fine art. I haven’t the vaguest idea of whether or not it would have really affected my style…. I don’t know, I doubt it. But when he died, I never went to Italy, and the students tried to keep the old school rolling…it became more like a club. I did life drawings and still lifes...we would go out in the field and paint some old church or whatever. Something totally different from what I do now, yet it taught me a lot about style. That’s where my early style brush technique. But when I went into comics I had to develop a line technique...which I learned absolutely nothing about in art school! It was very difficult and very slow for me to understand how to work with a pen and a brush. It was a shock to me when I found out that comics were done with a brush...I just assumed it was done with a pen. It took me a while before I really got into it and really began to master it. [35]
Frazetta was born on February 9, 1928, so he was just eight days short of his fourteenth birthday when Falanga died. Frazetta said he and other students continued at the academy until he was sixteen, so the end of the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts was in 1944. [36] Frazetta explained how he learned drawing, then anatomy from a book, and his influences and approach to painting.
He was quite happy to sit under the tutorship of a classical Italian artist, Michael [sic] Falanga, who ran this exclusive school with a free hand. (We used to sit around and draw anything we wanted to as students. It was very informal," Frank says.) But the object was to render, which Frank did in his own bouncy way. [37]

…my drawing was very stylized, a combination of every cartoonist I’d ever seen. It had a lot of character, a lot of action, a lot of emotion, but the drawings were kinda distorted…the anatomy was all pure guesswork. But, they were fun. So, when Ralph Mayo took over he said, “Frank, your stuff is great, but if you could learn some anatomy...” I didn’t even understand what anatomy was, I hadn’t the vaguest idea of why it was important. So, he handed me a book on anatomy. I went home that night and decided to learn anatomy. I just started with page one and copied the entire book..., everything, in one night, from the skeleton up. I came back the next day like a dumb kid and said, “Thank you very much, I just learned my anatomy.” Of course, he fell over and roared: “Frankie, you silly bastard! I’ve been studying for ten years and I still don’t know anatomy, and you went home and learned it last night?!” But the odd part is that I had learned and awful lot. I had the ability to absorb, and he saw the improvement instantly in my work. I was drawing anatomy! It was a thousand percent better than it had been the day before. He was amazed. That meant a lot to me, and from that point on my development was really very rapid. I started to do things with figures that made sense. [38]

My main influences are the countless European illustrators. Theres a fine line between illustration and fine art. I give more of a fine-art approach with a beginning, a middle and an end. You dont really tire of my stuff. Years go by and they dont fade a bit in interest. To me, people are more terrifying than grass and rocks, which dont move me. I cant do what Andrew Wyeth does. I want feelings. My fine-arts background, eight years of it, it had nothing to do with the fantastic stuff I do now. My illustrations pop out of my head. Sometimes I only lure you into the text and the painting—I literally leave the text unillustrated....The test is time. The impact of my best work never lessens; it only looks better. And better! Im my own worst critic and I know what the competition has done. But mine holds up, design, color, movement, no gimmicks, plenty of solidity, and form. You don’t tire of it. I’m talking about my best work. [39]

I love the Old Masters for their unquestionable abilities in composition and draftsmanship but they were reserved, restrained by their time. I love the Impressionists for their color and daring. They were obviously less restrained. Today there’s no restraint, and I'd be a fool to restrict myself in any way to please fans, critics, or peers. I’m an artist of my time; that’s the only thing I can be. I find barns boring, so why paint barns? Barns already exist. They don’t need me to create them. What I do create doesn’t exist, and to me that’s a helluva lot more exciting! [40]

1. Giovanni Schiavo, Italian-American Who's Who, Volume 2 (New York: Vigo Press, 1936), 160.

2. Onorio Ruotolo, "Il Pittore Michele Falanga," Leonardo, Annual Magazine of the Leonardo da Vinci Art School (1925) : 90.

3. Live Auctioneers, (accessed August 15, 2010).

4. Wikipedia, (accessed August 15, 2010).

5. Wikipedia, (accessed August 15, 2010).

6. Il Voto, (accessed August 15, 2010).

7-8. Schiavo.

9., Fourteenth United States Federal Census, 1920 (accessed August 15, 2010).

10., New York Passenger List, S.S. Trojan Prince, 25 August 1901 (accessed August 15, 2010).

11-12. Census, 1920.

13-14. Trow's New York City Directory (New York: R.L. Polk & Co.'s 1915), 660.

15. Trow's New York City Classified Business Directory (New York: R.L. Polk & Co.'s, 1917), 2109.

16. Abraham and Strauss advertisement, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 24 Oct 1916 and 12 May 1918.

17. Census, 1920.

18. "Da Vinci School Opens," New York Times, 23 December 1923.

19. Courses and Instructors, Leonardo, Annual Magazine of the Leonardo da Vinci Art School (1925) : 121.

20. "Da Vinci School Opens."

21. "Michele Falanga," New York Times, 2 February 1942.

22. Schiavo.

23. "Bowery Bank Has an Art Display," The New York Sun, 28 May 1928.

24., Fifteenth United States Federal Census, 1930 (accessed August 15, 2010).

25. Schiavo.

26. Atlantica, vol. 15-16, (New York: 1933) : 120.

27. Il Carroccio (The Italian Review), January 1935, 69.

28. "Lemuel Everett Wilmarth," The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume XII (New York: James T. White & Co., 1904), 424.

29. Florence Nightingale Levy, Art Education in the City of New York: A Guidance Study (New York: School Art League of New York, 1938), 83.

30. Schiavo.

31. Frank Frazetta, "The Imaginative Years," Burroughs Bulletin, No. 29 (Spring 1973) : 16.

32. Census, 1930.

33. Frazetta.

34. "Michele Falanga, Borough Artist," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 2 February 1942.

35. Russ Cochran, "Frank Frazetta," The Edgar Rice Burroughs Library of Illustration, Volume 3 (Missouri: Russ Cochran, 1984), 189.

36. Bob Barrett, "Frank Frazetta–The History of a Burroughs Artist," Burroughs Bulletin, No. 29 (Spring 1973) : 4.

37. Donald Newlove, "The Incredible Paintings of Frank Frazetta", Esquire 87, no. 6 (June 1977) : 94.

38. Cochran, 190.

39. Newlove, 152, 154.

40. Nick Meglin, "Frank Frazetta at Bat," American Artist 40, no. 406 (May 1976) : 77.

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