The BankRI Gallery presents,
“Sacred Dimensions: Flowers and Food– Photographs by Todd Sabelli,” January 2 through February 5, 2014 at the downtown Providence BankRI branch in the Turks Head building, One Turks Head Place.
Photographer and graphic designer Todd Sabelli grew up in a restaurant family. He washed dishes, bussed tables and waited on customers at Cappelli’s Italian Restaurant on Post Road in Warwick. He bonded with his father not by tossing a football in the backyard, but by breading eggplant together in the restaurant kitchen. His childhood revolved around food, family and culture.
The Italian culture fascinated him. Sabelli studied the language and the literature, and as an undergraduate at Boston University, traveled to Italy to study. While in Italy, he soaked in the culture, both historic and contemporary, visiting museums, galleries and cathedrals. “I saw a lot of paintings and sculpture,” Sabelli says. He thought long and hard about the art that he experienced and at some point he began to think about ways he too could make a creative contribution. He had taken a photography class at BU and “had fallen in love with the medium.” Sabelli continued to take photography classes while he completed a master’s program in Italian Literature at UCLA.
Then Sabelli made a life changing decision. “I decided I wanted to pursue photography more,” Sabelli explains, “and I applied to RISD.” He was accepted as an undergraduate in a 3-year program. He studied with Henry Horenstein, Gary Metz and Richard Lebowitz, but it was a photoshop class with Bert Beaver that put him on the road to a graphic design career.
“I like to learn new things,” Sabelli says. “Before I knew it I was doing designs for print – magazine layouts, websites and books. It blossomed into a career for me.”
The love of photography hadn’t disappeared, but it had become a more private pursuit. On a trip to the local farmer’s market, Sabelli found himself drawn to the sculptural qualities of the food and flowers before him. A cabbage leaf had texture and color that reminded him not of calories and vitamins and nutrition, but of some of the great works of art he had seen in Italy. A peony had the form and feel of sculpture.
He asked himself, “Am I just photographing food? Or am I trying to do something more?” Sabelli chose to photograph the food at eye level, elevating its importance and suggesting a more transcendent dimension. He wanted to convey the idea that many cultures revere certain foods and consider them sacred.
The color photographs are quietly sensual, with a quality of light that brings to mind both the control of product photography and the inspiring glow inside a great cathedral. It is an intriguing blend of modern and ancient with objects that are as familiar as can be.
Sabelli photographed the flowers in black-and-white, taking away one of their most recognizable dimensions. The resulting photographs emphasize the sculptural and textural forms of the individual flowers, giving them a gravitas not normally associated with the fragile and beautiful blooms.
Together the color photographs of vegetables and the black-and-whites of flowers have a resonance that goes far beyond a summer bouquet or a stir fry of veggies. They reveal a lot about the photographer whose love of culture took him from a kitchen in Warwick to the great museums and cathedrals of Italy.
The BankRI Galleries are curated by Paula Martiesian, a Providence-based artist and arts advocate.
Exhibit hours are Monday through Wednesday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Thursday and Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, contact http://www.bankri.com or call 401 456-5015, ext 1330.