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 have also 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, Tomaselli owns three T’s Restaurants with his wife Tina. As an artist, he churns out scores of paintings per year, working on as many as five landscapes at a time. Tomaselli teaches classes at the Providence Art Club, where he’s been a member for over 25 years. Many of his pupils come to art later in life, after they’ve pursued more practical careers. “As my wife always says,” Tomaselli muses, “I give them permission.”
The Art Club in Providence 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, Tomaselli dabbed at his latest piece – of sailboats docked beneath an overcast sky – as Gregorian chants played from a speaker. On a computer monitor, Tomaselli clicked through a series of digital photos; in his mind, he combined these various snapshots into a single painted image.
“Sometimes the photograph informs the painting more than the subject,” says Tomaselli, one of his many astute observations about his own process.
A Cranston native, Tomaselli 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,” Tomaselli recalls. “He always said, ‘Be one with God, and live with positive emotions.’” Today, Tomaselli has adapted this advice, with a less denominational tone, for his own students.
At Rhode Island College, Tomaselli 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, Tomaselli 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 Tomaselli 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.