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Gregorio Prestopino

Donkey Engine

Urban life dominated Gregorio Prestopino’s career. A resident of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, “Presto” was interested in the stark, often harsh realities of city dwellers. In Donkey Engine, a highly stylized, nearly cartoonish steam engine carries a worker in the New York shipping yards. The bitter cold wind is evident in the image’s cool gray tones and in the bundled figures at the lower right. A workman on the side of the oddly proportioned locomotive assumes the pose of a dancer and swings out of the cab with a purposeful glance to the ground. We have caught him in transition from one task to another, the daily toil of a dockworker. The train itself, stocky and robust in intense strokes of vivid blues, speaks of the heartiness of the machines and the men who work them.

Like many artists of his generation, Prestopino took classes when he could afford them. The influence of teacher Charles Hawthorne at the National Academy of Design gave Prestopino the realist sensibilities of the Ashcan school that would inform his oeuvre. The 1940s were the artist’s strongest years, as he found critical success and won a number of prizes. Prestopino was well known for his ability to capture the energy of what would be an otherwise mundane genre scene, with an overtone of gloominess and honesty concerning the underprivileged.

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