Art

Renaissance Man

As Anthony Tomaselli opens his studio to the public, he reveals a lifetime of landscapes

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If you’ve ever had breakfast at T’s Restaurant, you may have noticed the paintings on the walls – vivid landscapes of farm houses and coastal cottages, lovingly rendered in oil paint. You may also have wondered: Where did these canvases come from? Who is this prolific resident artist at T’s, and how did the restaurant afford to commission so much original work?

The answer: Anthony Tomaselli, co-founder of the restaurant and arguably one of the most beloved painters in Rhode Island. As a businessman, Anthony owns three T’s Restaurants with his wife Tina. As an artist, Anthony churns out scores of paintings per year, working on as many as five landscapes at a time. He teaches classes at the Providence Art Club, where he’s been a member for 25 years. Many of his pupils come to art later in life, after they’ve pursued more practical careers. “As my wife always says,” Anthony muses, “I give them permission.”

The Art Club is also the setting for his studio, a high-ceilinged atelier with bright windows and multiple rooms. The walls are packed with paintings, of all sizes and subjects. On a recent morning, Anthony dabbed at his latest piece – of sailboats docked beneath an overcast sky – as Gregorian chants played from a speaker. On a computer monitor, Anthony clicked through a series of digital photos; in his mind, he combines these various snapshots into a single painted image.

“Sometimes the photograph informs the painting more than the subject,” says Anthony, one of his many astute observations about his own process.

A Cranston native, Anthony apprenticed with the artist Gene Tonoff during his teenage years. These sessions were more than workshops in drawing technique. “He was very philosophical in his approach,” Anthony recalls. “He always said, ‘Be one with God, and live with positive emotions.’” Today, Anthony has adapted this advice, with a less
denominational tone, for his own students.

At Rhode Island College, Anthony was one of the first RIC students to pursue a BA in studio arts. He had a talent, of course, but drawing and painting gave him a sense of satisfaction and acceptance. “Human beings are in need of affirmation,” he says. “When I was a child, when I was drawing, I was affirmed.”

In 1979, Anthony seized his chance to move to California. He’d never traveled farther than New York, nor had he flown in an airplane. His West Coast sojourn was brief and disappointing, but Anthony revelled in the minute sensations of his cross-country journey. At the Grand Canyon, he resolved to follow his passions thereafter. The next few years were busy with courtship, marriage, and a risky new restaurant. Through it all, he gravitated back to art, and he’s painted abundantly ever since.

After 48 years of mixing pigments, Anthony has become an expert in quotidian landscapes, most taking place in small-town Rhode Island, a few depicting busy urban life. This hasn’t always been the case; Anthony became politically frustrated in the late 1980s, and he keeps an angstier series, Man’s Inhumanity to Man, in the basement beneath his studio. Portraits of corporate greed and street-level suffering document that emotional era.

The Art Club occupies several buildings on Thomas Street, but none is as splendid as the Fleur-de-Lys Studios: the intricate, half-timbered structure dates back to 1885, and Anthony’s workspace fills the entire first floor, with other artists housed above. It’s one thing to admire his paintings at T’s, but the Fleur-de-Lys open house is a thorough tour of Anthony’s life and work.

And what will the artist paint next?

Anthony smiles. “Winter always brings me to snow.”

The Fleur-de-Lys Studios open house takes place December 7, 8, 14 & 15.