Anthony Paul Filiberto: In Broad Strokes
An artist who lived as large as he painted.
There is a notion of the artist as a quiet recluse who needs to be by himself to protect his creative instinct, and artists themselves subscribe to it. In a poll of some 140 painters taken by a top art blog several years ago, nearly 80 percent self-identified as introverted or very introverted.
Then there is Anthony Paul Filiberto, who signed his paintings “A Paul” and was known to those in his life as Tony. The bold, sure-handed strokes of his palette knife—the movement and color and texture that give his works such a strong sculptural quality—directly reflect the gusto with which he engaged with people, encouraged them, brought them into his circle and forged abiding and meaningful friendships. In fact, his lust for humanity, for community, fueled his artistic power rather than enervated him. Whether painting flowers, a path in a forest, traffic in a rain-slicked city, a seascape, or a baby grand piano (no one-trick pony, A Paul), he liked nothing better than to have people come talk to him while he worked at his studio on Provincetown’s bustling Commercial Street. It was just a block from the Cortile Gallery that showcases his and other artists’ work and is run by his wife, Kerry Filiberto.
“He thrived on people coming in,” Kerry comments, “talking to him about the work.”
Truth be told, he wanted to be connecting to people through his art whether they met in person or not. He said in a video some years ago that his goal was for people looking at his work “to feel the energy I’m feeling when I’m painting.” (It’s hard not to.)
Part of the energy is the sense of rhythm his paintings impart. An expressionist, Tony called himself a rhythm painter. (He often liked to paint to music.) The rhythm is encouraged by his blending of colors on the canvas with tools that include rollers and plaster knives. It imparts a different, perhaps at times more fluid, effect than colors mixed on a palette. Using such tools and working with a palette knife instead of brushes was as natural for Tony as frosting a cake, Kerry says.
He was happy to share his knowledge and approach. “He had no trouble telling you how he did things,” says Boston-based painter Nella Lush. “That means a lot among artists—and among friends.”
Celebrated Cape artist Anne Packard knew and enjoyed Tony’s outgoing manner. She liked to joke with him and, especially when he was still relatively new to Provincetown, visit him at his studio to discuss art and talk in general. Once he had both oars in the water, as Kerry puts it, she would come by less often, but they maintained a warm rapport.
It wasn’t just established painters Tony connected with. Sometimes people who wandered into his studio or the Cortile Gallery would mention that they had always wanted to paint but never had. He’d respond, “‘Then come paint with me,’” Kerry relates. “He’d supply the paint for anyone who wanted to give it a try.”
One of those people was Traci Logan, a college administrator who had barely picked up a paint brush before Tony invited her to create alongside him.
“We’d listen to fabulous music in his studio together,” she says. “He would teach me how to prepare the canvas and then block what I was painting. He would teach me how to mix colors. I would paint with a brush, and after a while he started teaching me how to paint with a palette knife and get that wonderful striation of colors in thick oil—texturized. He also told me not to be afraid to blend paint colors with my fingers right on the canvas.”
But at least as importantly, Logan says, they would have “these very intimate conversations about life.” She says he helped her not to shy away from “making changes in life.” His own painting was a metaphor for his willingness and courage to make changes that brought him happiness, she notes. He had come to painting full time only in the last 20 years of his life, when he was in his early 50s, around the time he met and married Kerry. Before that, he served as chief operating officer for a non-profit that empowered people with disabilities through vocational development and also supported employment and residency while ensuring their medical and dental care.
Ann Parks McCray, whose paintings are exhibited at Cortile, is happily familiar with Tony’s penchant for helping by sharing his own life experiences. “His well-known artistic expertise was matched by his openness of heart,” she says. “His work is almost like light captured on canvas, and I feel that reflects in large measure his generosity of spirit.
“One of his greatest talents was listening to a friend or a fellow artist with his whole being. We talked art, politics, life losses, joy in creation, and more.” It’s as if the range of subjects on which Tony could speak knowledgeably is a direct reflection of the range in his artwork. While much of his work is bold, a number of his pieces, his seascapes in particular, can be subtle and soothing. The full gamut of emotions is teased out under the broad tent of his creativity.
All artists who knew him appreciated his eagerness to exchange ideas, including about process—and to guide when necessary, but never in an overbearing fashion. “Tony was a person who really was up front,” says Ed Walsh, an artist who both exhibits at and helps manage Cortile Gallery. “He used bold, straight talk. But for all that he didn’t trample. He was very empathetic and gave his advice cautiously. I remember one time I was having trouble with sky. He started explaining in terms of brush strokes what I could do. And then, boom, it was like this door opening. I was able to develop the painting into more of what I wanted. He did it in a way that was matter of fact without being prescriptive, without telling me what to do.”
What Walsh also liked about him, he says, is that “Tony wasn’t just interesting. He was interested. He talked to people not just about his work but about themselves. ‘Where are you from? What do you do? What draws you to Provincetown?’” Perhaps that’s why, Walsh, says, that long after Tony had left his position as a COO in corporate America, people who had worked with him—not just executives but also administrative assistants and others up and down the ladder—would find their way to Provincetown and come to say hi to him, to chat with him. Once you knew him, you wanted to remain in his orbit.
Walsh credits both Tony and Kerry with putting him on the map as an artist by exhibiting some of his work in the first place. “One of their missions when they opened their gallery was helping emerging artists in town,” he says. “I was very, very lucky to meet two such vibrant people. How many emerging artists stop into a gallery and end up showing their work there?”
Brenda Silva, a painter who also helps manage Cortile, gushes similar accolades, crediting Kerry for literally plucking her from obscurity. She had been renting studio space at P-town’s Whaler’s Wharf, never selling paintings for more than $20, when Kerry happened to see the “Open” and “Closed” signs she had painted for the door of the Provincetown Chamber of Commerce—a simple dune scene and a boat.
From there Kerry short-circuited Silva’s starving artist route, selling the first of many of her paintings at the gallery for a much more significant sum than she had been used to. Today, Silva is a top-selling artist at Cortile. Kerry’s eye is almost preternaturally spot on.
Silva also echoes artist Walsh’s sentiments about Tony’s artistic generosity, his ability to tread lightly in encouraging other artists to do their best work. “He would only come forward if I asked his opinion,” she says. “The only things he would say unsolicited were positive ones. ‘I love the direction that’s going in’ or ‘This is great.’”
Collectors as well as artists appreciated Tony’s friendship, in addition to his talent. Peter Sadow, a physician who serves as Director of Head and Neck Pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital, has about 10 A Paul paintings that encompass what he calls “the whole range of his styles.” There are the ones of Provincetown’s Long Point where you can see what Sadow refers to as Tony’s “three-dimensionality, the flow of the waves, the sand, how the sea and sky come together.” There are the florals, the cityscapes in which “he would mix blacks and whites but then put a punch of color in them with the red tail lights of cars….”
But beyond that, Sadow likes that he was able to just pop into the studio or gallery even if he wasn’t in the market for a painting and “talk about anything, talk about life.” And he appreciated that Tony and Kerry had an intriguing ying and yang. “Tony was always covered in paint. He was a streak-of-paint-on-the-face type of guy and completely gooey in terms of emotional flow,” Sadow says. “Kerry is more Jacqueline Kennedy, more formal. Whereas other people in Provincetown galleries might be in overalls and flannel, Kerry is wearing a cocktail dress and heels. That difference between them was an interesting dichotomy to experience. But it worked, and she loved him voraciously.”
Collector Bill Bayba, a CPA, says he has eight A Pauls in his office alone and that they all “make such a statement in the room. My clients go, ‘Wow, that is just beautiful,’” he says.
The first time Bayba bought a painting of Tony’s from the gallery, Tony said to him, “‘I want you to step up to it and smell it.’ It was still fresh,” he says. Tony made him touch a spot on it, too, so he could get a feel for the consistency. He wanted him not just to see the work but to experience it with all his senses.
And when you walked into his studio, Bayba says, “He could be in the middle of painting, but he would get up and give you a big hug. He was just such a generous person. He would promote other artists as much as he would promote himself.
“Sometimes you’d go up to his studio and he’d say, ‘I’m going to try something different. Whadya think of this?’ Another time he’d be playing pool at the studio’s pool table. ‘Gotta take a break, let the brain rest a moment so I can be more creative. Wanna play with me?’” And then conversation would flow from there.
It was during one such warm, engaging conversation he was having with a friend on the phone one day in mid December of 2019 that Tony couldn’t get the words out while trying to tell a story. The friend told him to put Kerry on the phone and then urged her to rush him to the emergency room for fear he was having a stroke.
It wasn’t a stroke. It was brain cancer. Tony was in surgery the very next day, when as much of the malignancy as possible could be removed. A more definitive diagnosis was due on December 23rd. Two days before that, the eldest of Tony’s three sons died unexpectedly. Then he and Kerry received word that the cancer was a very aggressive type, glioblastoma, with a poor survival rate. Less than a year later, the day before Thanksgiving 2020, he was gone.
Artist McCray remembers talking to Tony about coping with the passing of beloved people some years ago. Kerry had put together an exhibition of her work, and she came to Provincetown for the opening. It was an exciting evening. “But in talking with me,” McCray says, “Tony saw that I was off. ‘I’m really struggling right now,’” she confided in him.
“‘Let’s step out on the sidewalk,’ he said.
“We leaned against a wall, and I told him that my father and two of my best friends died within six weeks of each other just a few months prior. He got really quiet for a minute and then asked if I’d like to hear some of his experiences, which I did. Afterwards, he looked at me firmly but also gently and reminded me that all of those people I had lost were celebrating with me and would want me to fully be there on my night. ‘You can keep fighting your sorrow,’ he said, ‘or put it on your shelf for a minute. It’ll be there. They would want this for you.’
“That gave me perspective. Sorrow can be isolating if you’re not careful. It slices through you. But once it’s shared it’s not quite as desperate.
“Sharing doesn’t diminish our sorrow but reminds us that in our loving memories of people we can add more depth, more enthusiasm, more joy to our own lives. That’s really how we best memorialize the people we care about. Tony had the wisdom to know that.”
Larry Lindner is a contributing writer for Cape Cod Life Publications.
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