Talking Dan’s Papers Cover Artist Tom LaGrassa

Dan's Papers cover art by Tom La Grassa
Dan's Papers cover art by Tom La Grassa (Detail)

This week’s Dan’s Papers cover artist Tom LaGrassa works out of his East Hampton studio. A graduate of New York Phoenix School of Design in New York (later taken over as an annex to Pratt Institute), LaGrassa has been in numerous group shows on the East End, including the Annual Guild Hall Artist Members show, for which he received an honorable mention. LaGrassa takes us inside this week’s cover art, his background and his love of drawing.

This cover image instantly brings to mind Marc Chagall, especially his prints—the colors, the lines, the whimsical dream-like quality.
I think its great you saw some Chagall in this piece. Chagall is one of my all-time favorite artists, so thanks.

This old white-bearded man appears to be like a Father Christmas in meditation. While there’s a lot going on, it has a peaceful aspect, too. Could you tell readers a bit more about it? 
Funny you should mention Father Christmas, as my only other Dan’s cover [Dec. 1998], called “Winter King,” looked like a combination of Santa Clause and Old Man Time, with a crown instead of Santa’s sock hat adorning his head. That was a 4 foot by 2 foot. painting [acrylic on wood]. I’ve been drawing and painting this guy, this archetype, in one guise or another, since high school. I think growing up Catholic and being surrounded by all those paintings of what holy was supposed to look like really stuck with me. The drawing on this cover is much smaller than the Winter King, and done in a drawing pad. I had taken a break from painting; I’m a messy artist and had grown weary of having paint under my fingernails.

Is this a style and medium you typically work in?
I’m a full-fledged doodler and have been my whole life. I saw all these gems living in the margins of my notebooks, on envelopes, newspapers, and decided to give them all a promotion. The great thing about doodling is that it’s totally unconscious. I took my doodles and started re-doodling much larger, and on art paper as opposed to, say, a napkin.

The fun thing with these drawings is that I’m using colored pencils, ink and colored markers to work with. No more paint under the fingernails, even though just recently I have picked up the dreaded brush again. The drawings are also more whimsical and playful than my paintings. I think they would make good greeting cards, and I’m looking into perhaps doing that.

Who are some of your favorite artists?
Van Gogh and Chagall are two of my favorite artists.

Where did you grow up?
I was born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens. I’ve lived here since 1980—the beauty of the land out here, and of course the light, is always a source of inspiration and creativity. I’m also a massage therapist and a musician—a real businessman. Ha, ha, the first time my father saw me standing in front of an easel in our basement, I was all of 14. He was looking at me like I’d just landed from Mars. I said, “Dad, I think I wanna be an artist.” He shook his head, “An artist? And if you’re married and have children, and your children are hungry, are you going to paint them a loaf of bread?”

Although I have a much greater appreciation now for the point my father was trying to make [may he rest in peace], but the answer then, as now, I guess, has to be “yes.”

To see more works by Tom LaGrassa, email him at [email protected]

Dan's Papers cover art by Tom La Grassa
Dan’s Papers cover art by Tom La Grassa

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