A blank canvas – lacking a defined identity and purpose – can be a daunting task for any artist. Many grow to hate its vacant stare, praying for inspiration to end the monotony of its colorless complexion. Often, it can lead to hasty or unimaginative work.
Such dilemmas are nonexistent for Louie Gasparro, who adores his canvas as much as, or perhaps more than, his work – because his canvas is his city.
Gasparro, an urban contemporary street artist born and raised in Astoria, found his feet in art in a nontraditional manner.
“When I was a kid, I would ride the ‘RR’ train to Queensboro Plaza and the No. 7 to Main Street, and that’s where I first saw bubble writing and cartoons on the train,” Gasparro said. “The fact that it was moving on a train, it was like a flying cartoon in front of me.”
Following his fascination for the flying images he observed, Gasparro grew to create icons of his own. He began visiting train yards after dark to spray paint – a practice he continued for roughly six years. He would draw his tag name, “KR.ONE,” or whatever images he viewed in his mind’s eye, aiming to evoke the same joy in other subway riders that he experienced as a kid.
“I tried to take this flowing and fantastical lettering and combine it with my graffiti style lettering,” he said. “Graffiti when it began was name based. It was all about how many different ways I could draw my name and bend the alphabet.”
In his early years, Gasparro credits cartoons, comic books and the rock and roll album covers his brothers gave him for motivating his artistic creations. Artists he admired include Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.
A classic western Queens kid, Gasparro received his entire education in Astoria and Long Island City schools. His art edification he left to his own studies, having never received any official training.
As Gasparro grew in age, and as an artist, he never struggled to find inspiration – wherever he looked, it was in view.
“I’m inspired by good people, truth, music and nature,” said the 46 year old. “I get inspired easily, I guess because I still have this childlike approach to it all. I get inspired so easily because there are so many things I appreciate that are all around me.”
His greatest inspiration, however, will always be his hometown – where he discovered his craft and found his first professional work as an artist.
“Where I grew up was the perfect vantage point for me to view all the different graffiti styles happening at the time,” he said. “From 1974 to 1983, I absorbed all of that which was going on with graffiti. I wouldn’t trade when and where I grew up for anything. I grew up around the corner from Kaufmann Astoria Studios. I met Aerosmith when I was 12. I saw Michael Jackson and Diana Ross making “The Whiz” when I was a kid. I was immersed in art growing up – it was around every corner I turned.”
Beginning in the early 1980s, Gasparro was commissioned to paint murals across western Queens, and he was particularly well known in Astoria. He painted frescoes for neighborhood spots such as the Beebe Diner, Boutique 92 and a schoolyard located at 28th Street and 36th Avenue in Dutch Kills, affectionately known as 204 Park. He has also been featured numerous times at L.I.C.’s 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center – an outdoor art exhibit space considered by many to be the Mecca of graffiti.
Gasparro’s most common graffiti topics are assorted lettering fonts – which he considers the purist form of the art – and subjects pertaining to New York. Along with his urban contemporary street art, Gasparro also enjoys creating abstract and fantasy pieces.
What he relishes most, he says, is the process of combining many genres and forming a free flowing finished product – allowing the piece to come together on its own.
“Fifty percent of the time I’ll be bold, and I’ll look at the canvas and just go immediately. I just go for it,” Gasparro said. “I get in an improvisational flow – like jazz. You have to take chances and you will make mistakes, but you have to make mistakes to achieve perfection.”
Gasparro has also pursued a career in his second passion – music. He joined the band Murphy’s Law in 1982 and traveled the world performing as a drummer. Regardless of where he went, his true love was never far away.
“I went to Europe and I was amazed. Europe really grabbed graffiti and held it to its bosom and nurtured it,” Gasparro said. “Europeans have had art and culture for centuries, so they have more of a vision. America is a much younger country when you compare it to a country like Greece. Graffiti is huge in Greece, Italy and Germany.”
Despite its international popularity, Gasparro is proud that graffiti is from New York, and his neighborhood was a leader in the art’s rise to fame.
“Graffiti is a worldwide phenomenon. It is probably the biggest art movement in the world, and it is from New York,” he said. “The phenomenon that it has become is because of New York. I don’t know of any other art movement that so many people were doing at the same time.”
Gasparro does not appreciate the negative connotations often applied to the word “graffiti.” The art was never about breaking the law for him, but meant something more than the paint in the can.
“When people asked me why we were doing graffiti, I told them we had to express ourselves,” he said. “What we felt was so deep that we had to go big. We were expressing ourselves in a big way. There is the graffiti problem, but what about the art side? We can’t always look at the negative. Why can’t we get kids who are acting out and get them to express themselves through this art form?”
Now an accomplished artist, Gasparro is frequently commissioned to work on clothing, furniture, cars and even private homes. He has been published in several anthologies, and is currently in the process of writing a book of his own – chronicling the life and work of Don 1, an influential graffiti artist.
He was recently re-welcomed to the site of his artistic genesis, when his work was displayed in an exclusive show – Bringer of the Kolor Storm – on March 10 in L.I.C. More than 100 people attended the event – which featured Gasparro’s urban, contemporary, fantasized, graffiti-style art – and every painting was purchased. Due to its success, Gasparro is currently planning a subsequent show.
“For me to come back and do a show in my hometown, where I practiced and started – the place that turned me on to art – was amazing,” said Gasparro. “It is great that LIC has become this artistic place when an artist like me can show my stuff.”