Artists are great observers of the world around them: people and their surroundings, whether rural or urban. Such was Henry Martin Gasser, who captured the life, beauty, and character of his home state, despite its lack of traditional landscape scenery. Gasser often depicted the same subjects many times over, only making slight adjustments or changes in order to differentiate each scene. At times he has been labeled a “social realist” for his frequency in depicting the shabby and unkempt backstreets he encountered. He believed: “it is the artist’s challenge to take advantage of this familiarity (with his environment) and infuse the ordinary with excitement.”

A native of Newark, New Jersey, Gasser studied locally at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art where his instructor and lifelong friend was John Grabach, known for his gritty, working class scenes which were often associated with the Ashcan School. Gasser then proceeded to take classes at the Grand Central School of Art and the Art Students League in New York City. Except for military duty and some traveling, he lived his entire life in New Jersey, where he found much of the inspiration for his work, as he explained: “everyday subjects that are available to most of us—street scenes, back yards, trees, old houses, etc. I looked for them in front of houses, in backyards, public parks, and elsewhere.”

During World War II Gasser served his country as both an artist and a member of the United States Army, not unlike Charles Burchfield and Alfred Hutty in the previous war. He was assigned to the visual aid training unit at Camp Croft in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and arrived shortly after his enlistment in early 1944; he was discharged in late 1945. While at Camp Croft Gasser recorded the routines of daily life in a series of watercolor paintings and pen and ink drawings that perfectly captured a particular time and place. These reflect basic maneuvers such as marching and the preparation of artillery, as well as physical exercises like carrying large logs and climbing fences. He also depicted some of the boredom of camp life and some of its poignancy in a scene of a soldier writing a letter. The works are small in scale, done quickly on sketchpad paper in a  spontaneous and fluid style, allowing for informal images on an intimate scale. Although he worked in a variety of mediums, including oil, gouache, and casein, he was best known for skill with watercolors, which most artists only used for preliminary sketches.

Back in New Jersey, Gasser became the Director of the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art from 1946 until 1954. In 1949 he enjoyed an extended sojourn in Bermuda, and together with Grabach went on painting expeditions to the north shore of Massachusetts, sometimes in the winter. Over time he also traveled abroad, taking in Paris, Venice, Rome, Spain, Greece, and the Holy Land. From 1964 through 1970 he taught composition classes at the Art Students League.

Gasser was the author of numerous books about painting, including Oil Paintings: Methods and Demonstrations, 1953; Techniques of Painting the Waterfront, 1959; and Techniques of Picture Making, 1963. Actively engaged in the art community, Gasser belonged to more than twenty organizations, and was a life member of many, including the National Arts Club, Grand Central Art Galleries and the Art Students League. He served as vice president of the American Watercolor Society and the National Academy of Design, and he won many awards, including the NAD's prestigious Hallgarten Prize in 1943. As a frequent exhibitor in solo and group exhibitions, he received many accolades and over one hundred awards and medals. Gasser’s success and popularity was derived from his dedication to painting and willingness not to idealize. For him, “The search for a picturesque or readymade landscape, comprising ideal color, composition, and subject matter often actually results in an unexciting dull picture.”