Gregorio Prestopino (1907 - 1984)
"I knew at twelve that I was going to be an artist and that there was no other way I could conceive of having a life."
Known during the 1930’s and 1940's as a social realist*, Gregorio Prestopino, or "Presto" as he was called by friends, spent the last several decades of his career creating a joyous, enchanted world of sunlit landscapes populated by vibrantly colored nymphs. Though these paintings were related to his previous work in their adherence to a painterly style with strong graphic underpinnings, to many observers they were such a radical departure that they appeared to have been produced by an entirely different, and much younger, artist. Prestopino's friends Rosellen Brown and Marvin Hoffman wrote, "looking at the dark and angry early paintings, it feels as though Presto has lived his life backward, from disillusionment to joy."
Born on New York's Lower East Side in 1907, Prestopino showed early promise and, at the age of fourteen, was awarded a scholarship to the National Academy of Design. It was there that he fell under the influence of the Ashcan painters. As a young man, he set up his first studio in Harlem and, for the next thirty years, concentrated on depicting the grit of city life – docks, laborers, vendors, Lower East Side streets and, in the 1950's, Harlem life.
Prestopino received much acclaim during the 1940's, and was, along with Ben Shahn and Philip Evergood, on the best known of the social realist painters. He won a major award in 1946 from the prestigious Pepsi-Cola competition for this painting, Morning Conference. In 1954, on becoming the Director of MacDowell, Prestopino began spending five months each year in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
By the early 1960's, Russell Lynes observed: "[in Prestopino's work] the sound of the city… gave way to the sounds of the country, the relentless of bricks and pavement and steel to the happy disorder of dappled things." Prestopino continued painting the sylvan world until his death in 1984.
Prestopino's influence as a teacher, mostly at the New School for Social Research in New York, has been attested to by such former students as Red Grooms. Prestopino was Painter in Residence at the American Academy in Rome during 1968-69. His work has been widely exhibited and can be found in many major public collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., which owns over twenty-five of his works.