"Don't Mourn, Organize"
Artist(s): Ralph Fasanella
Genre(s): visual Arts
Material(s): oil paint, canvas board
Technique(s): oil painting
Dimensions: 24" h. x 32" w.
Date made: 1988
Where made: New York, New York
In whose collection: Collection of Michigan State University
Museum, Special purchase by the Michigan AFL-CIO, Local 951 of the United
Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
Photograph of work by: Mark Eifert
Rights to photograph courtesy of: Michigan State University
This painting depicts a meeting of an organizing committee in a union
hall. The union hall is a center of activity. It is a meeting place where
workers and their families attend classes, hold meetings and reunions,
socialize, and attend performances.
The focus of Ralph Fasanella's paintings is the workplace, union hall,
home, neighborhood, and baseball stadium. He was the artist of everyman
and everywoman for whom he vividly expressed his outrage at social
injustice, reflecting their voices and sentiments.
"I'm trying to show an organizing committee. . .not just the people, but
what a union's like. On the right wall is my favorite message: Get Smart,
Read. I want to tell working people, the only way you can learn something
is by reading books. My other message? As Joe Hill said, Don't Mourn,
Organize. If you need inspiration when the grind gets you down, think of
Joe and some of labor's other heroes. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. John
L.Lewis. Harry Bridges. Patrick Gorman. James Housewright. They taught us
how to organize, how to fight, how to win."
At first glance, the scene of the union hall seems straightforward and
simple. But to focus only on Fasanella's social message misses his talent.
His paintings, with their color and detail, exude warmth and playfulness.
Fasanella stated, "The inner feelings, the color, the design, pull people
into the painting. And then they see the inner story. My paintings look
easy, but they're very complicated. That's why they're so big; that's why
people like them."
"[Reading books] used to be one of the great things about a union. It
wasn't just a place for economics, but it gave you a lot of information,
really a cultural center, for minds and thinking. You got involved when
you met people in a union hall, and you began to find out that people
weren't only interested in unions, but in art, literature, dance, and so
you began to find out that the union was bigger than just economics. . . .
"I also believe, if you're going to [be] a people's painter. . .you have
to make something that's going to be beautiful, positive. And you can't
paint a down scene, you have to have the affirmative part of what's being
done. It's like [playing] the blues, they're not sour notes, they're blue
notes. There's a big difference. . . .So the painting has to sing."