355th Fighter Group
Born in New York City in 1921, Archangelo DeCosta grew up in Pennsylvania and had no formal art training prior to enlisting in the USAAF except for one year of drawing classes at the University of Pennsylvania. Known as Art, he recalled years after the war that he never thought of himself as a nose art painter when assigned to the 355th Fighter Group because he had mostly painted portraits and murals in and around the base at Steeple Morden. Initially he qualified as a cook in the army and was shipped to England. After the Time-Life artist Tom Lea saw some of DeCosta’s amazing murals Lea convinced the CO to transfer him into Special Services and make him the 355FG artist. Consequently, for the rest of the war he was a full-time artist and painted several portraits of his superiors. For his mural work, DeCosta worked directly onto the wall by blocking in with charcoal then wiping it away until barely visible. The walls of the Officers’ Club at Steeple Morden were adorned with an array of beautiful angels with pilots, peacocks and Sultans.
Nose art became a spin off from the jackets he painted for the pilots with their individual mascots. Before painting onto the aircraft cowl he would cut a newspaper mask and then spray with white paint to create of base to work on. This enabled him to achieve vibrant colours from the oil paints bought from an art shop in Cambridge. He was an admirer of classic art and its use of the nude in tasteful form as well as the popular images in Esquire magazine. When requested he also produced some cartoon style images. When the 355FG changed from Thunderbolts to flying Mustangs, DeCosta’s artwork was more limited by the less generous nose area available for his imagery.
After the war, Art DeCosta continued to paint and trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where he also taught. He became greatly admired as a teacher with an enviable knowledge of art and technique. He formulated a synthetic oil paint which replicated that used by Renaissance artists but with a greater resilience. He had several solo exhibitions in later years including one at the National Academy of Design in New York.
© Ray Bowden 26 June 2022