John LaGatta (1894-1977)ARTIST GALLERY
"To put it another way, beauty today is the world's champion salesman, or rather sales-woman, no matter whether a strikingly short story or a box of talcum powder is the thing to be sold by an illustration. Beauty does the hardest job in the intricate ritual processes called selling. It arrests and stops the traveling eye; it lays imperious hold on the attention. It performs the task that a battery of high-pressure salesmen cannot perform. The words which follow beauty's lead do the rest, whether they are words on the printed page, or words spoken by a traveling salesman." - John LaGatta
Born in Naples, Italy, John LaGatta found his way to the United States at an early age. Reared in New York City's rough and tumble lower east side, his life as an immigrant was a story that was unfolding on every street corner. Fortunately his artistic gifts were discovered and nurtured at an early age, and the tools to fine tune his skills were at hand. Under the discerning eye of Kenneth Hayes Miller and Alvah Parson, his time at the New York School of Fine and Applied Art gave him the perfect foundation for a career in advertising.
Starting as a teenager in the advertising industry, his early work often featured working men in overalls and realistic renditions of American life. Dissatisfied with this limited and unrefined version of the world he portrayed, LaGatta took a sabbatical. LaGatta traveled to Cleveland, Ohio and joined one of the city's art studios; he quickly began to discover that his passion and talent lay in his depiction of style, glamour and beauty. It was during this period he met Florence Olds, a fellow art student, whom he fell in love with and later wed. This union became a partnership that would endure and he relied upon and trusted his wife in all of his major decisions.
He had an uncanny knack for translating from model to canvas an appreciation and sensual perspective of the female figure. LaGatta began his artistic process by sketching the models in charcoal and pastels and then would almost always refine his interpretation into an oil painting. His subjects became sophisticated, upper-class men and women with long graceful figures and with classic clothing designs. LaGatta’s images graced the covers of The Saturday Evening Post romantically giving the impression that the images were effortless without a care in the world. LaGatta gave the Post readers a window into a world they might not otherwise experience.
Throughout the 1930's and 40's his work was found on all major publications. LaGatta touted advertising clients such as Ivory Soap, Kellogg's, Johnson & Johnson, and Spaulding Swimwear. He spent long hours trying to fill the tall order that his success had brought. In a March 1938 piece in The Saturday Evening Post author Clarence Kelland wrote: "John LaGatta is a Long Island neighbor of mine who is so busy drawing pictures that I have to break into his studio to see him. He is darn near perfect, or will be as soon as he discovers how dandy it is to waste time."
As the war years came upon America in the 1940’s, the need for romantic illustration waned. Tired of the rigors of New York life, LaGatta moved to California. Although he continued his advertising regimen, he began to extend his interest to portrait commissions and teaching. In 1956, Tink Adams invited LaGatta to join the faculty of the Art Center School. For nearly 21 years, he inspired the next generation of illustrationist to hone their talent. He was known as a strict taskmaster from "the old school" but those that put in the effort were not sorry. He taught and worked until his death in 1977.