Lawrence Calcagno was born in 1913 to Italian immigrants in San Francisco and was raised on his father’s ranch near Big Sur in a remote area of California. He began to draw at an early age, learning fro nature and developing a strong sense of empathy and awareness of his environment. He was largely self-taught until after World War II when he began to study art under the G.I. Bill in San Francisco at the California School of Fine Arts, taking courses with Clyfford Still, Richard Diebenkorn, Mark Rothko and Ad Reinhart, among others.
In 1945, Calcagno had his first solo show in a New Orleans gallery. But, by the end of 1949, he was anxious to visit Europe to study the arts of France and Italy. He spent one year each at L’Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris and at Instituto d’Arte Statale in Florence. When his G.I. benefits ran out, Calcagno moved temporarily to Morocco, allowing him to return to his studies in France and Italy. From 1951 through 1954, he exhibited at Galerie Craven and Galerie Paul Facchetti in Paris, as well as venues in Florence and Madrid. During this time, Calcagno became friendly with another expatriate artist, Beauford Delaney.
Martha Jackson first saw his work in 1954 and offered him a show at her gallery. After spending five years in Europe, Calcagno returned to New York to have his first one-man show at the Martha Jackson Gallery in 1955. He continued to show with the gallery for many years. During the late 1950s, he accepted several artist-in-residence positions at the University of Alabama, The Albright School of the University of Buffalo and the University of Illinois at Urbana.
Calcagno also taught at New York University and traveled to Lima, Peru, Mexico City, London and Copenhagen. Calcagno’s work has been included in many exhibitions at major museums including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Guggenheim Museum, Walker Art Center, Brooklyn Museum, and the National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian. His work is part of the permanent of collections of these museums and many others.
In 1965, he was awarded a Ford Foundation grant and was named to the visiting Andrew Mellon Chair of Painting at Carnegie-Mellon University. Calcagno also received fellowships from the Yaddo Foundation in Saratoga Springs, New York, The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and the Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico.