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Michael di Cosola (1929-2010)

  • Michael di Cosola was born June 27, 1929 in Chicago at the Mother Cabrini hospital to parents Michilina and Tony.  His parents were born in this country, but his grandparents on both sides were from Italy.  There were three children, an elder sister and a younger brother. His elementary education was at catholic school and he went to high school in Oak Park, Illinois, graduating in 1947.  After that, his schooling was:

    -University of Illinois Navy Pier: 1946-48
    -American Academy of Art:  1947-49  (with Haddon Sundblom)
    -Art Institute of Chicago:  1946-50
    -California College of Arts & Crafts (Oakland) 1950-1952 (contemporary with Nathan Olivera, Robert Bechtle, and George Post).

    His awareness and inspiration of art was fueled by the huge amount of time he spent alone studying the wonderful collection of paintings at the Chicago Art Institute during his teenage years. At that time the Art Institute had the fabulous “Chester Dale” collection on display, which they failed to make permanent, and it went to the National Gallery in Washington D.C. where it is today. This gave him the opportunity to study closely the work of Picasso, Matisse, and other masters of the Modern Era.  This privilege to absorb all these masterpieces at his leisure, close up, unhurried, over and over, became his inspiration to develop from these his own technique of form, color and paint use.

    He longed to go to New York where it seemed everything was happening.  But he formed a friendship with a man who was bound for San Francisco and a job teaching at San Francisco State College.  That journey brought him west rather than east. They arrived here in 1950 and stayed with friends at 930 Green Street on the top of Russian Hill.  Then they got a small apartment downtown at 680 Sutter Street.  Since there was not enough room for him to do his painting there, he found a space for his studio at 535 Columbus in North Beach.

    The Columbus Avenue Studio flourished during the height of the Renaissance in North Beach, with its wide windows overlooking Washington Square and a short distance from Hip Beat feel of Grant Avenue. The studio was a frequent gathering spot for the artists, writers, poets and philosophers who called this part of the city, home.The studio -- along with Vesuvios, 12 Adler Place, and Jazz Poetry Open Mic nights at the Cellar -- were among the gathering places for the emerging Beat Generation.  The space had previously been a tailor’s work space and he had to clear away the remnants of that use, paint it fresh as a background for all the colorful paintings he did there.

    Eventually, the small apartment at 680 Sutter made a move necessary and they bought a Victorian at 4411 17th Street in 1953.  Michael, ever handy with the crow bar and paint bucket, cleaned that place up and he converted a downstairs space into his Studio.  It looked down over Market Street to what would much later become the Castro District.

    It was during this early 50’s period, Studio at 535 Columbus becoming Studio on 17th Street, that he attended California College of Arts & Crafts in Oakland.  He had wanted to attend the San Francisco Art Institute, but this was during the Korean War and the SFAI did not offer a deferment from draft, while CCAC did.  So the choice was CCAC. Two of his instructors there were Geo Post, well known for his Bold Flat strokes watercolors and potter Antonio Prieto.  While there he befriended Nathan Olivera, who admired Michael’s work and was very supportive.  Nathan, a well known painter later taught at San Jose State.

    In 1956 another move, to an even larger space and a much bigger project, was to a four-story Queen Anne Victorian at 2507 Pacific Avenue.  This was to be his home for the next 53 years. Because of its location in a quiet family neighborhood, and the size of the rehabilitation and restoration project that he took on, his life became much more reclusive and quiet.  His top floor studio, looking out at the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge became a refuge from the busy city and a quiet place to concentrate on his art. That isolation brought other problems-- being out of the mix, not part of a coterie of artists talking about each other, and the galleries not knowing who he was or what he was doing. Michael became an outsider, in his own little world, with no word circulating about what he was doing.  That and his innate shyness precipitated his withdrawal from that mix.

    His life long interest in Decorative Arts led him to search, along with his life partner Max Lightfoot, for interesting and beautiful objects they would present at antique shows. Michael especially enjoyed colored art glass, a natural offshoot for someone who was so excited by the different colors, combinations, intensity, nuances and integral importance of form; all things he explored so beautifuly  in his work.


    Michael died on December 20, 2010 at the age 81.

    Exhibitions:
    - Columbus Avenue Studios, 1950-52
    - San Francisco Interplayers Theatre Gallery:  one man show 1951-52
    (Located at Beach and Hyde Streets -  across from the Buena Vista Café)
    - Another Gallery:  one man show, 1952 (with Ruth Asawa Wire Sculptures)
    - 12 Adler Place:  Watercolors, 1952
    - U.F.O. Gallery, 1608 Haight Street: one-man show, 1967
    - Kelly Gallery, 3673 Sacramento Street:  one-man show, 1968

    *This biographical information was written by Max Lightfoot, Michael’s friend and life companion (October 16, 1969 - December 2010). Our thanks to Max for bringing Michael's story and this stunning collection to Lost Art Salon.
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