Search for hidden treasure right here on Long Island! I’m not talking about the Gold Coast, but rather the outdoor murals of Hans Gabali. For over 45 years, Hans transformed the brick or stucco sides of buildings into oceans, fishing shanties, deserts and swimming pools. Climbing ladders and painting from scaffolds, he painted more than 4,500 murals in private homes and on business walls all over Long Island.
Often, the subject of the murals reflected the businesses they adorned. Scenes paint the story of clam bars, Italian restaurants, pet stores and even swimming pool companies. Landscapes featuring pastures, farms, the Alps and seascapes with varied coastlines were popular motifs. The water in his seascapes was always rough, patterned with chop and white caps providing a strong contrast to the static sandy beach area, pier or fishing villages.
Not only do his folk art murals offer whimsy and joy, they can create optical confusion. Many passers-by have tried to open his painted doors, and Gabali was never reluctant about painting over or incorporating existing architectural elements such as pipes, doors, air conditioners and existing windows into his work.
My personal favorites are “View from Montauk Point” (east side of Banner Transmission) in Bellmore and “Fishing Village” (behind Freeport Marine Supply), along with a few sprinkled along Nautical Mile in Freeport.
Years back, my dad met Hans Gabali while both were in the doctor’s office waiting room. Hans mentioned that during a period when he was inundated with commissions, he tried working with an assistant, but he ended that because it actually slowed him down.
His outdoor work is here today, but may be gone tomorrow as a result of weather conditions or even changes in ownership. Some murals have been painted over and some are hidden by large trucks parked in front of them. Hofstra University Professor Martha Kreisel stated, “Folk art is an important part of culture and community, and Gabali’s murals are an important part of Long Island.” Fortunately she has created an electronic archive to preserve the images of his murals.
Originally from Hamburg, Germany, Hans learned to paint before immigrating to Brooklyn in 1952. Prior to discovering the joy of painting murals, he made his living as a house painter. Hans Gabali passed away in 2006 at 85 years of age, but Long Islanders and tourists alike continue to discover and enjoy his works, while going about their daily business. Click here to see more samples and locations.
Have you seen or do you have a Gabali mural in your neighborhood? Does anyone own one of his hand-painted bottle caps or clamshells? If so, I would love to know the story behind your treasure.