Italian artist Giorgio De Gaspari may be an artist unfamiliar to many downthetubes readers, but throughout the 1960s his cover art thrilled many a young comic reader of British digest titles such as Thriller Picture Library and War Picture Library.
De Gaspari’s work was highly innovative, characterised by bold juxtapositions of colour, and dramatic compositions that played with perspective. He would often experiment with materials, tools and techniques, introducing gritty textures, sometimes scratching surfaces, layering materials or including sand in his images.
Born in Milan in 1927, De Gaspari’s father was a draughtsman from whom the young Giorgio De Gaspari learnt to draw. Accepted into the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan, his first job after graduating was to fill in for the popular cartoonist and illustrator, Walter Molino, whenever Molino was unable to complete a commission.
Gaspari’s first illustration was published in 1947 for the Sunday paper, La Domenica del Corriere, a paper well known for its illustrations, some illustrating grim stories from the news from around the world. De Gaspari’s output was prodigious, producing more than 1000 illustrations for the paper, contributing until 1970.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s De Gaspari was commissioned to produce illustrations for children’s books, working for Italian publishers Valladri, Agostoni, Lucchi and Fabbri. His work included illustrating some classic titles, such as Pinocchio, Don Quixote, The Three Musketeers, Moby Dick, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and various fairy tale collections.
De Gaspari also worked as part of the D’Ami studio in Milan, receiving regular commissions from English clients, among them Fleetway Publications. For Fleetway he produced a number of covers for the Sexton Blake Picture Library, one of many “pocket libraries” of the time, of which only DC Thomson’s Commando is the survivor on the British new s stand today.
He also provided covers for Cowboy Picture Library (30 covers, between 1958-60), Thriller Picture Library (39 covers, 1958-60) and Super Detective Library (four covers, 1960).
He’s perhaps best known for his work on War Picture Library, illustrating 32 of the first 48 covers between 1958 and 1960, but he also painted covers for numerous paperbacks, including at least one Tarzan cover for Four Square, Tarzan and the Castaways, in 1966).
“His artwork was simply stunning,” enthuses artist and writer Peter Richardson of his Picture Library covers.
“It was one of those rare moments when an artist receives a brief that he was born to fulfil and while De Gaspari’s earlier work had been seriously good the paintings that he created for AP/ Fleetway totally eclipsed his previous output (well, OK, those that I have seen).
“These were scenes that you could totally immerse yourself in well before you felt impelled to start reading the contents of the comic.”
In 1966 he dropped out of the publishing world. Abandoning his career to travel the world, including the Far East, he eventually returned to Italy where he made Venice his home, constructing a floating studio from salvaged materials off the small island of Pellestrina in the Venetian lagoon, eking out a living by painting portraits of tourists in Saint Mark’s square.
To make ends meet, he drew portraits of tourists, giving them only copies, never the originals, signing his work as also known as “El Foresto”, the Venetian word for “The Stranger”.
He resisted offers of work by former colleagues, who regarded him as a master of his form, and rejected approaches by influential figures from the art and design world keen to stage solo exhibitions of his work.
Giorgio de Gaspari born 30th January 1927, died 15th October 2012 in Venice
• The Lever Gallery at 153 -157 Goswell Road, London EC1V 7HD exhibits work by Giorgio De Gaspari | More information here
• There is a tribute here to Giorgio de Gaspari on the Italian site Nova, and a follow up of memories of the artist by fellow artists and friends here, and images from a 2013 exhibition of his work here
• Giorgio Foresto: le opere segrete di Giorgio De Gaspari, by Giovanni Scarpa features many of the artist’s “secret” works – art created in later life as private commissions – is available here
• Giorgio de Caspari is one of several Italian war artists whose work is celebrated in the Illustrators British War Comics Special – Studio Dami and the Italian Artists (Limited Edition) is available to order here from Book Palace | Subscribe to Illustrators here on Book Palace and check out the index of published issue here
• The illustration Art Gallery has numerous works by Giorgio de Gaspari for sale here
Giorgio De Gaspari’s work features in David Roach’s books featuring much war picture library cover art
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With thanks to Mario Benenati for prompting this article a couple of weeks ago. Giorgi de Gaspari should not be confused with the similar-sounding comic strip artist “G. De Gaspari”