March 1 – March 31
Rhode Island artist Carmel Vitullo has traveled little in her lifetime, but in 1966 she took her first major vacation, a three week tour of Europe. This spring, the Bert Gallery presents Carmel Vitullo: Italian Sojourn 1966, a collection of never-before-seen Italian scenes captured during the trip.
Vitullo’s images of Italy evoke the mystery and cultural splendor of a country through the eye of the tourist: the endless canals of Venice, the bustle of St. Mark’s Square, the cafés of Rome crowded with flowering romances. Within these scenes the artist captures the leisure and pride of the Italian lifestyle in 1966 and imbues them with the awe of the visitor, her own lighthearted sense of humor and her eye for performance. Her singular street-portrait style calls to mind the images of her contemporaries Henri Cartier-Bresson and Sid Grossman.
As a student of the Rhode Island School of Design and graduate of the New York Institute of Photography in the 1940s, Vitullo spent many of her younger years moving between Providence and New York City. In the early 1950s she submitted a portfolio of photographs to Edward Steichen, then curator of photography for the Museum of Modern Art, from which he selected three works for the museum’s permanent collection. One was included in the famous 1955 exhibition The Family of Man, which encouraged Carmel to continue pursuing art photography in her free time. Over the following two decades the artist created the majority of her definitive street photographs of Federal Hill, Oakland Beach and other neighborhoods of Rhode Island.
In recent years Carmel’s work has gained new exposure with her first major retrospective exhibition at the Bert Gallery in 2004 and recent shows at the Newport Art Museum and Block Island Historical Society. With new research made into her earlier years and artwork, the artist is now presenting her photographs of Italy for the first time, created at the peak of her stylistic expression during the 1960s.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, Carmel looked to her native state and its neighborhoods for artistic inspiration. She returned to her childhood home of Federal Hill to capture its vibrant ethnicity: the hustle and bustle of the outdoor fruit market, the local butcher filling orders and the weekly Saturday chores. In contrast to the energy of city life, Vitullo also explored those favorite Rhode Island retreats of Little Compton, Tiverton and Block Island to capture the state’s rural enclaves and created a series of photographs of the Oakland Beach section of Warwick. Curious to develop new subject matter, Vitullo attended the First Newport Jazz Festival and photographed young jazz entertainers such as Louis Armstrong on the trumpet, Jo Jones on the drums and others. Today these works are important historical documentation of people and events in Rhode Island.