Raphael John Sassi died on April 5, 2019, in Henderson, Colorado. His life was taken by an unprovoked and senseless act of gun violence.
Raphael was born in Pennsylvania on Oct. 29, 1976, and raised in Maryland. He began his art studies in his early teens, and he eventually received a Maryland Artists Equity Distinguished Scholar Finalist Award in 1995. Subsequently he enrolled at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Including a semester studying abroad in Italy at the Syracuse University in Florence, he graduated from MICA in 1999. He was, in the words of Professor James Hennessey, “The most accomplished draughtsman that I encountered in my 37 years of teaching at the Maryland Institute.” After some travel, he moved to New York City where he attended graduate school at The New York Academy of Art in TriBeCa on scholarship. After receiving his MFA cum laude in 2004, he was awarded the Walter Erlebacher Award for the study of Artistic Anatomy and one of the three distinguished NYAA year-long Post-Graduate Residencies, the Academy’s highest honor and one of the Fellowship positions for the year 2005.
Raphael exhibited numerous times in New York City including two group shows in the Chelsea district and at the National Arts Club where he was awarded The National Portrait Society Award for the renowned graphite on paper “Allen” now in a private collection. He also exhibited at The Salmagundi Club, the New York Academy of Art, four drawing exhibitions at the Medialia Gallery, and a solo exhibit in SoHo. Further, he exhibited at the Baltimore Museum of Art with the Maryland Artists Equity Foundation. He was published in Denver Westword, Elle magazine, Fine Art Connoisseur, The New York Times, and Page Six of The New York Post. Raphael was interviewed for the Spectrum News NY1 Arts report and for The New York Times Style section video short, and more recently in the new tome dedicated to contemporary figuration published by Rizzoli entitled The Figure as well as in the Huffington Post Arts Blog.
Shortly after receiving a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship Grant in the Drawing/Bookmaking category in 2007 he taught Anatomical Drawing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and the School for Visual Arts in Manhattan in their undergraduate programs. In 2009, he was awarded the Acadia Foundation and Richard Estes Artist Residency Grant. His work is part of numerous private collections, including that of Eric Fischl.
In Colorado Collective magazine, Volume 3 (November 2016), can be found an in-depth interview given by Raphael. In this piece are photographs of Raphael and his work, as well as his lovely and thoughtful reflections about his artistic philosophy and vision.
The complexity and beauty of Raphael’s life are illuminated by the following words:
“In a senseless violent act, the light went out on April 5, 2019. The light that connected the son/brother/nephew/artist/man/child to a tumultuous challenging world. The light that allowed him to see beauty in so many things. The light that let him extend that vision from his brain through his fingers to share exquisite beauty. That same light held him captive, struggling to sustain his equilibrium in a world that refuses to support that exquisite beauty. We are all so much more blind now that his light is gone.” — Diane Rynd, aunt
“His talents were ludicrous. They were amazing. He was the top tier of top tier talent, so good at what he did that he chose to draw with a simple ball point pen or silverpoint, two unforgiving mediums that do not allow for erasure.
In the 1400s, he’d have been celebrated and rewarded the way his namesake or Michelangelo or Leonardo or Caravaggio or Botticelli were, commissioned by the powers that be to make beautiful public spaces. Five hundred years later people would have stood in awe of his paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Michelangelo was famously punched in the face by a jealous rival once, and I think it no stretch to say Raph would have been a celebrity in the Renaissance of equal heft, needing to hone his boxing skills against jealous peers.
Alas, not the world we live in.” — Sebastian Sassi, brother
“My brother lived a life full of adventure and experience. Through him I was shown food, music, people, and culture I would otherwise never see, and I am richer for it. He possessed a talent few will ever know and had an inner kindness not enough saw. He could command a room, make everyone laugh and see things in a way they hadn’t thought of. He loved his niece and nephew and always had a thoughtful gift for them. I’m sad they won’t get to know him better. It was my fortune to have him as an older brother, and I’ll miss him for the rest of my life.” — Daniel Sassi, brother.
Raphael is survived by his mother and father, Gretchen and Douglas Sassi, of Still Pond, MD; brother, Sebastian Sassi and wife Brooke, of Peyton, Colorado; brother, Daniel Sassi and wife Alexis, of Middletown, MD; and nephews and nieces: Seamus Berube, Annabel, Sawyer, Dominic, and Jasper Sassi. He is remembered and cherished by many aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. To help keep Raph’s artistic legacy alive, donations my be made to the Raphael Sassi Memorial Scholarship Foundation, c/o Sebastian Sassi, 9912 Beryl Drive, Peyton, CO 80831. Services will be private.
When he was not driving or drawing, he rode his motorcycle across the Southwest. At the end of his life, Raphael had limitless plans and hopes and dreams.