Tony Romano: A Man of Many Talents By: Patricia O'Friel

Tony Romano is a kind and unassuming man whose warm smile and welcoming spirit are evident from the moment you meet him. His restaurant, Romano's, is one of the classics of St. Thomas. Tony's artistry as a chef and reputation as a successful restaurateur were established long before his emergence as a fine artist.

Tony was raised in New Jersey in a very interesting and creative Italian family. He started drawing in high school and continued into college. There his interests expanded to focus on music as well. He studied music theory and piano and later taught himself tenor saxophone, flute, and guitar. His interest in art and the development of his eye for fine art were fostered by his uncle, Dr. Nicholas Giarritta, who was an avid collector and became Tony's mentor in many ways. Nicholas was the owner of a fine dining restaurant under whom Tony learned the art of cuisine. Tony worked with his uncle for years perfecting his own abilities as a chef and businessman. He moved to St. Thomas in 1985 with his children, Tony and Nina, and opened Romano's where he established an outstanding dining institution. It has become widely known as a place of elegant cuisine, attentive service, unique art exhibits, and warm ambience, a place where the visual and culinary arts blended and enriched one another.

While Tony's interest in art continued through the years as he built his business and expanded his own collection, his talents as an artist lay essentially dormant, although he did continue to sketch when he could. Then a serious illness brought him close to death in 1999 and left Tony unable to work in the restaurant for a year. He soon picked up a paintbrush and began to paint. From the very beginning he felt a drive and sense of purpose. Tony's near-death experience gave him a renewed appreciation for life and a new discipline and focus as he developed a love for painting. When he eventually returned to his schedule at the restaurant, he changed many long established work and social routines so that he could concentrate on what became a passion for his art. He describes leaving the restaurant and painting at night -- usually until dawn -- while listening to music, often jazz or classical works.

Asked about his style, Tony is quick to respond that he does not want to be labeled and trapped in a particular category. He attempts to be open to new forces and experiences and to take risks in trying new techniques. He is committed to constantly stretching beyond his comfort level. He works primarily in oil, but his subject matter is varied, and his repertoire of styles is evident in even a cursory view of his creations. Oil paintings are joined by encaustic works, highly textured abstracts are featured next to portraits, rich layers of shimmering glaze flank bold strokes of flamboyant color. He balances discipline and freedom. Stunning colors and forms prevail, yet subtler feelings are conveyed as well. Tony is a master of paradox as is evident in a recent sculpture. The bust of a woman with her finger to her lips is called "Sh-h-h," yet the work's bright primary colors and wax rivulets of energy and motion call out and seem to intensify her request for silence.
Tony bristles a bit when someone refers to his art as a "hobby." He says that the idea that he is a restaurant owner with an after hours hobby is erroneous since he approaches his art with a discipline that goes far beyond the breadth and depth of any hobby's scope. Tony's prolific output and remarkable success as a painter attests to his strong commitment to what he passionately pursues and regards as his purpose at this point in his life. In fact, he speaks of feeling a profound sense of "destiny" about his need and desire to paint. The vision of the valley of death has led to incredible and unique visions which Tony expresses with deep vitality and obvious awareness of the precious gift of life. Even in casual conversation, Tony frequently speaks of feeling "blessed."

The paintings Tony has created are vibrant and alive. Some literally jump out of the canvas as hands and faces emerge in layers of oil or encaustic overlaps. Heavily textured oils go beyond impasto techniques and create dramatic and thought provoking visual statements. Others are playful or romantic or even a bit nostalgic as in one painting of a special café in Paris. Tony's musical interest comes through in images of musicians in bold, bright colors.

Tony's love for what he refers to as the "theater of fine cuisine" is nowhere more evident than in paintings where he incorporates his interest in food and wine within his art. One painting protests the use of screw tops instead of corks on fine wine bottles (a recent attempt by some producers to modernize and economize). This painting is a large, bold work in which the intricate designs take precedence over the very real protest nearly hidden within the lines and angles. Other paintings are bright still lifes of fruit and fresh produce. One work presents the orderly design and vivid colors of the restaurant refrigerator filled with the fresh fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients ready to be used in the day's preparation.

Tony Romano is a talented musician, a celebrated purveyor of fine cuisine, and an award winning artist whose work has been exhibited in world class galleries and collected internationally. He has been called a "Renaissance Man" in a recent issue of DESTINATION magazine, and this label is a perfect one for this inspired and inspiring man of the world. Fortunately, he is also a man of these islands whose creativity enriches and celebrates this special place he calls home.

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