Raphael Sassi made portraits that lived and breathed.
The Colorado Springs artist and folk art teacher was revered as a skilled draftsman, someone capable of detailed drawings. A stroll through the “Raphael Sassi: A Retrospective” exhibition will put you nose to nose and cheekbone to cheekbone with people you swear are familiar. It is because they are. He enjoyed capturing the faces of many community members and those involved in the arts in the Pikes Peak area.
The exhibit will run through March 5 at GOCA 121, the University of Colorado’s satellite gallery at the Colorado Springs Galleries of Contemporary Art. It will be open during the first Friday downtown.
“His work is incredibly complex,” David Siegel, executive director of the Ent Center for the Arts, wrote in Communique, a UCCS news publication. “The bags under the eyes of a portrait subject were so realistic that I could feel the exhaustion in my own body.”
Sassi followed his brother to Colorado from New York and landed in the Springs around 2004. After moving to Henderson about 15 years later, he was killed by a roommate in 2019. He was 42.
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“We were really robbed,” said Daisy McGowan, curator of the exhibition and director of contemporary art at UCCS Galleries. “I wanted to demonstrate how vital his talent was and, more than that, how connected he was to the community. He was one of Colorado’s most important contemporary artists. He exhibited frequently, but didn’t pay the same attention to his work because he was a younger artist than you might have as you mature as an artist.
The retrospective features more than 100 drawings, including “The Girlfriends,” a series of three dozen portraits of friends and models made while in graduate school at the New York Academy of Art in New York. The main exhibition is accompanied by a memorial exhibition, featuring works by local artists who painted portraits of him after his death.
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“He was lively and passionate when you told him about his passions, like drawing,” McGowan said. “He knew he was an artist from an early age. It wasn’t an option to walk away from, just figure out how to be successful in life, when that’s your calling.
To support his art, he moved from Springs to Henderson to work as a long-haul truck driver. The new gig matched his lifelong love of motorcycles, as evidenced by the number of motorcycle designs in the new exhibit.
“Trucking gave him a lot of freedom to draw and think about art,” McGowan said. “He was mechanically gifted, having spent his life interested in the mechanics of motorcycles and engines.”
The lines in Sassi’s drawings sparkle with energy, McGowan said, and he often used drawing tools that seemed limited. Some of his works are made only with ballpoint pen, a difficult and indelible medium. Others are done in silverpoint, a type of drawing using thin pieces of silver wire held in a stylus.
“It’s difficult and it goes back to the Renaissance era,” she says. “You can see his style and the artist’s hand. And he’s developed a style all his own. There’s an immense humanity to the process of looking at someone that close and posing for a portrait.
Contact the author: 636-0270
Contact the author: 636-0270