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An Artist’s Brush With Immortality

Times Staff Writer

The man shudders, violently, as if in the grip of a force beyond himself.

His head lurches back, then sideways, an untamed forelock of dark brown hair flailing at the brow. Under the drawing-table, bare toes clench, straighten, clench again, frantically seeking a grip on the carpet.

Over the canvas, the man’s hands move quicker than the eye can follow. Pastel crayons, seemingly selected at random, swoop and dart, now in the left hand, now in the right, now in both at once.

As the man works, his eyes are tightly shut, his expression a tenuous alliance of grimace and grin.

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In precisely 1 minute and 35 seconds, the drawing is done. The man tosses the canvas to the floor, face down. He pauses just long enough to grab a second canvas, then sets to work again at an equally furious pace.

Six Works in 15 Minutes

Within 15 minutes, six canvases are produced: four in pastels; two in acrylics, the latter done without brushes, with bare hands and fists working paint dabs squeezed out of tubes.

The first drawing is held up. It is recognizably Renoir. Then there is a Manet, a Toulouse-Lautrec, a Modigliani. . . . Later in the week, there will be a Picasso, a Goya, a Van Gogh. . . .

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For now, there is a gasp.

“This is hard to believe,” an admirer tells the artist. “How do you do it?”

Luiz Antonio Gasparetto smiles. “I don’t do it,” he says. “ They do.”

Gasparetto calls himself a “spirit channeler,” a medium through which about 50 Old Masters choose to work.

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When responding to their dictates, he is not in a trance, he says. “No, I’m aware of everything. But I’m just watching. They moved my hands and arms; they put the colors in my hands; they mix them. . . .”

They Chose Him

The Old Masters--who Gasparetto says chose him, not the other way around--communicate their wishes both “verbally” and telepathically. “I hear them, yes. But we can also talk in telepathy. I speak six languages, but since they’ve been with me 25 years, they’ve learned Portuguese too.”

A lanky, earthy, 39-year-old, Gasparetto is in Southern California this month not to demonstrate his artistic talent--he insists he has none--but to spread the message of the “discarnate” artists: The message of life after death.

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In his native Brazil, Gasparetto runs a free “spiritist center” for the poor of Sao Paulo. “Last year we received 35,000 people,” he says. “Four hundred psychics donate their time and money. We give food, medical aid, job training, counseling, healing. There are too many poor for the government to care for. The situation is really awful. But we do our best.”

To support himself (“It’s a good living”), Gasparetto works as a psychotherapist in his own clinic. A weekly psychic TV show doesn’t hurt the business.

“We (spiritists) believe part of being spiritual is leading a normal life,” he says. “We don’t go up in the mountains to pray. We don’t give up eating meat, smoking, drinking, (making love). To be really spiritual is to raise your family with love, work with people, deal with money, with society. So I lead a normal life, but maybe a little different. I have this gift. . . .”

It’s a gift Gasparetto chooses not to capitalize on, “certainly not for money.” Accordingly, his demonstrations are free. Proceeds from the drawing and painting, he says, go directly to his center: $200 for the pastels, $300 for the acrylics.

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After Gasparetto’s Easter Sunday demonstration at the Church of Inner Light in West Hollywood, members of the congregation draw lots for the privilege of buying a Gasparetto/Old Master work, one of 12,000 the Brazilian has “channeled.”

During the channeling, Gasparetto has asked--and received--total silence. Flashbulbs are forbidden (“They burn me”).

After the exhibition/seance, Gasparetto fields questions:

Question: Are there times you can’t--or won’t--channel?

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Answer: Yes. We (he and the artists) have a kind of agreement: I only accept the invitations they want. We’re very clear on that.

Q: Why do you occasionally open your eyes?

A: I’m only human. Sometimes I want to see what I’m doing. But when I interfere too much, they close my eyes and turn my head.

Q: How do you feel during the demonstrations? Does it exhaust you?

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A: No. It’s pure joy. It’s orgasmic.

Q. Do you see the artists in their physical forms?

A: Yes. I remember a German man asking that. Then he says, “They must have been dead a long time. Do they smell?”

Later, over coffee in the church basement, the conversation is spirited.

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“Sure I believe the masters were painting,” Jonelle White says. “I saw it. I started to get chills. . . .”

“I’m very skeptical by nature,” Gary Shapiro says. “I’m a contractor, down to Earth. But I can sense when entities are working through someone. They were here.”

“Something extrasensory was happening,” avers actor Dennis Weaver. “I was watching from behind, wondering what all this paint was going to be, and all of a sudden a face appeared. . . .”

At UCLA’s Dickson Art Center, an art instructor, an artist of note, is shown a book with reproductions of Gasparetto’s work. He is unimpressed.

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“It clearly looks like an artist doing a stab at each style,” says the instructor, who asked not to be identified. “He gets reasonably close but no more than that.”

UCLA art historian Robin Strauss takes a softer view: “There certainly is a flair to it. It may be just an ability to copy, but he definitely has a technique, a great deal of dexterity.”

The instructor disagrees: “My students could do these. I’ve had some do assignments based on studies of the Masters who come a lot closer.”

But in 90 seconds?

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“Of course not. Why would anyone want to?”

Without brushes? With either hand? With both hands simultaneously? With a foot? (Gasparetto has “channeled” several artists through his feet.)

“Well . . . " the instructor says.

In a dark room? With eyes closed?

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“Jeez,” the instructor says, “I don’t know. I can barely tie my shoes with my eyes closed. Tell him for me: ‘Go to it!’ ”

Gasparetto speaks of the artists conversationally, totally without pretense, as one would describe an old college friend or a drinking buddy. He has been channeling since he was 13, he says.

“It took a while for them to learn how to use me,” he says. “I was a new--well, a new medium. Now I can work, through them, with brushes. I do it sometimes when we’re alone and have the time.

“But when I do a public demonstration, what the spirits want is to show that they can use me in a way that proves it’s not me who’s doing it . . . it’s to show that something else is controlling Luiz.

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“I ask them if they can do something closer to the style of the time when they were here. Of course, they can approach it--with brushes, right colors, right materials. But even then it’s difficult. They have changed, evolved. It’s a big effort to force them to try to reproduce their older styles.

“That’s why only the Masters try to do this, and not all of them, either. Cezanne, he had a lot of problems. He can paint through me only with brushes. Sisley tried many times, then said, ‘Forget it!’

“For Rembrandt it’s hard. Da Vinci too, though he tries. But Picasso--the most creative, the strongest--in one week he was controlling everything!”

To Gasparetto, “It’s all very logical. Why should God’s most complex creatures just die? It doesn’t make sense. And if they exist, why can’t they communicate in some way?”

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In Brazil, Gasparetto’s mother channels best-selling writers, he says. One of his brothers channels pop musicians. His other brother is not psychic: “He handles the business. Somebody has to.”

D. Scott Rogo of Northridge, author of 28 books on parapsychology and a lecturer on the subject at John F. Kennedy University, Orinda, Calif., finds the Gasparetto syndrome not that uncommon. “In Brazil, in Italy,” Rogo says, “there are many ‘psychic channelers’ who produce the phenomenon: Painting in a disassociative state.

“People make the mistake of thinking that either the phenomenon has to be produced through the spirits, or that the person is a charlatan. There is a middle ground.

“Let’s say that the person has talent and doesn’t know where it’s coming from. His family and his culture have convinced him that it’s from the spirit world, when in fact it’s been generated by some level of his unconscious mind, independently from the rest of his personality. You see this in multiple personalities, in hypnosis, in the production of automatic writing, operating a Ouija board.”

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Before about 500 spectators in Venice on a recent Thursday night, Gasparetto/Picasso/Degas/Goya/et. al. are in rare form--11 disparate works in 40 minutes.

At one point, drawing in the dark save a single red light bulb to enable the audience to see, the artist(s) executes a Monet with his right hand and a Tissot with his left. Simultaneously. The Tissot is drawn upside down.

To a layman, the Van Gogh--an intricate, wavy pastoral scene done in acrylics and taking all of six minutes--is spectacular.

“Whoever’s doing it,” remarks spectator Martin Johnston, “Vincent or Luiz, you can’t deny it’s out of this world.”

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As in West Hollywood, Gasparetto answers questions for 20 more minutes, then announces he can answer no more.

“Why not?” someone demands from the floor.

“Because I’m hungry,” Luiz Antonio Gasparetto says.


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