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"I see the sun on a rainy day - I refuse to be unhappy." - multi-media artist, art researcher, collector died on June 8, 2018. He was 87.
Of Italian immigrant parents he grew up in South Phila. the youngest of 11 children; his character built by close family ties, a love of animals and boyish jaunts.
Castagno was drawn to art at a young age. He received train-ing at Fleisher Art Memorial; the Phila. College of Art; by competitive entry at The Barnes Art Fdn., he took classes at PAFA. Though he traveled the world, Castagno lived almost his entire life in South Phila., where he went from brick pointer to artist, then to art expert and collector - all of which he did with his character-istic, infinitely meticulous attention to detail.
As an artist and sculptor, Castagno worked in many styles and mediums. In 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, he made his first flag painting, calling it "an emotionally produced work of art." The flag and its stars and stripes would become an enduring and power-ful motif fueling his creative output for the next 50 years - even revisiting it once again in the last year of his life. "To some, using the pattern and colors of the American flag in art may seem rather limiting, but it's not so. For me I see an endless avenue of exploration."
Throughout the 1960s and '70s Castagno had ten one-man exhibitions, mostly of his flag-inspired art that was in fact, rooted in his great love for American ideals and in a desire to use art to hold America accountable for any wrongs it perpetrated. The use of the flag in art was frowned upon in this era by both the left and the right but Castagno's work found its way into more than forty museum and public collections in the United States, Israel, and Ireland, the private collections of Presidents Carter, Ford and Obama. A reproduction of his "Stripes and Stars" was included in the bicentennial edition of "American Heritage - Magazine of History".
Castagno is widely known for his research on artists' signa-tures. He published "John Castagno's Artists' Signatures and Monograms," seventeen volumes containing a catalog of 55,000 artist signatures which he painstakingly collected in over 18 years of research. The volumes have become a standard reference source for galleries, museums, libraries, and collectors around the world used to identify, authenticate, or verify signatures. He called it his "labor of love, a legacy to the art world."
Sometime in the late 1980s, John "looked down [his] street and counted sixteen utility poles and not one tree." He began a decades long tree-planting and general beautifi-cation of the 1100 block of Snyder Avenue. In 2004 the block was awarded First Prize from the PA Horticultural Society for their City Gardens Contest. John continued to maintain his part of the city garden-oasis.
John is survived by his long-time companion, Christofer Macatsoris, with whom he shared over 50 remarkable years, collecting art and living through music, traveling and escapading, caring for their cats, and enjoying the company of their friends. John is survived as well, by many who loved him dearly, and who basked in his warmth, his easy laughter, and his gentle, caring attention and advice. John is also survived by nieces and nephews, and his brother-in-law, John Carey, married to his dear sister, Mary, who predeceased him by only three months.
A celebration of his life will be held in September and details will be forthcoming.
Published on Philly.com from June 14 to June 16, 2018
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