Joseph Gatto

Investigators were scouring Bright Lane in the Silver Lake neighborhood on Thursday, November 14, 2013, where Joseph Gatto, 78, the father of Assemblyman Mike Gatto, was found shot to death in the family's home the night before. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Artists and art students from around Greater Los Angeles remembered art teacher Joseph Gatto, who was found shot to death in his Silver Lake home, as a great educator and promoter of the arts.

Artist Robert Vargas, who did the mural in downtown L.A. on the corner of 6th and Spring streets, told the Los Angeles Times that Gatto “was a pillar in my foundation as a young artist.”

Vargas was a student at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and graduated in 1993. The most important class he remembered with Gatto was figure drawing in which half of the class would draw and the other half critique.

“His teaching style was very honest; it was very direct. I think his honesty and his intentions were always sincere,” Vargas sad. “He challenged and inspired us to pull from within ourselves and not be afraid of that path of discovery, wherever that may lead us.”

Gatto, the 78-year-old father of state Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake), was found slumped over a desk by his daughter Wednesday night after she hadn't heard from him all day. Los Angeles police said that the house had been ransacked but that they were still investigating a motive.

Vargas said he was planning to draw live in honor of Gatto at that night's downtown Art Walk and called a few classmates from high school to join him.

“I think they’re going to come out and support and know that’s where our lives took a turn for the better,” Vargas said. “The world’s lost a great man, a great promoter of the arts, a great educator of the arts.”

Kathleen Belanger, 63, of Temecula was a student of Gatto's at Granada Hills High School.

“I was 16 years old and just happened to get him as a teacher, and it just changed my life,” she said Thursday. “He just loved art.... Just the love of art was so inspiring that you couldn’t help to get a love of art from him.”

Jonathan Tarbox, 36, of Oak Park had some classes with Gatto in the early 1990s at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.

“One thing I remember him doing on the first day of class -- he gave us all a piece of charcoal and a piece of paper and said, 'I want you to make 30 different types of marks on that piece of paper and you have five minutes. Go,'” Tarbox said.

“It was serious business for him. He wanted to get us into the nation’s top art conservatories, art colleges," he continued. "It wasn’t a joke for him, it wasn’t just about having fun.... He took it seriously.

“He had extremely high expectations for his students.... He treated us like professional artists because that’s what he expected us to be,” Tarbox said.

Wendy McClay-Triplett, manager of the Prop + Model Department at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, said she worked with Gatto booking art models for his classes when he taught there.

"Joe was a warm, charismatic, brilliant teacher, who was very well-liked by all of the faculty, models and students who worked with him," McClay-Triplett said in an email.

"Joe taught Introduction to Drawing for the Art Center at Night program. He taught students how to draw from a nude figure model. Joe often sent handmade cards and notes of thanks and appreciation," she continued.

"My heart breaks for his family," she wrote. "I have been fielding calls all day from art models who are crushed to hear of Joe's death. The world has lost a great teacher and a wonderful man."

-- Ari Bloomekatz, Los Angeles Times

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