He begins by prepping Masonite with black gesso three times, sanding in-between. The black base of the gesso is vital because it brings out blues and greens, the significant colors of his paintings. Working with acrylic paints means working in layers – as many as 20 on a finished painting – to achieve a seamless effect that also shows dimension.
Don Cadoret, 53, enjoys his five by seven square foot self-created studio – a double closet that opened up when the Tiverton artist tore down the walls to work within his Reed Street home.
In December, Cadoret celebrated his 40th year as an artist – a fantastic feat when you consider he never took a single art class, has created his own style, his own media, his own whimsy, his own career world. He has gone on an unlikely journey from a teen who liked rabbits, foxes and birds, to a master of painted, quilt-like wonders so good that First Lady Hillary Clinton commissioned him to paint Socks – their pet cat.
In his bright and open Tiverton home, Cadoret sits in his open closet, with his stored supplies, his collections of antiques, vintage toys, books and art by other artists, all of which inspire.
His wife Johanna holds an open house, entertaining guests and potential buyers with hors d’oeuvres and cider in her kitchen while Don conducts tours, overlooking the meticulous gardens and stone walls, created by his wife.
Don is decades removed from Springfield College, where he never took a single art course. Though his mother was especially encouraging of his whimsical work from the start, she and his father “wanted me to get a ‘real job’ right out of college. Art was never thought of as a profession,” he says.
He started by drawing birds, then cars, then familiar cartoon characters. “I grew up in the final stage of magazine illustrations being commonplace. And, like many of us, Norman Rockwell had an effect on the way everyone looked at life. I think it was his storytelling that really spoke to me, more than his painting skill. As I’ve grown older, I’ve been able to see many of his works in person and I truly admire his drafts- manship and painterly style,” says Don. But his billeted animal-and-metaphor- filled work is much more Grant Wood or Pieter Bruegel or Rockwell Kent than that other Rockwell.
Of his unique, time-consuming style he says, “Patterns are everywhere in life and I’ve always tried to incorporate them in my work. Looking at my work, you immediately understand that it probably took way too many hours to create the effect, and that’s true. However, I thrive on doing all of the extra work, sometimes working months on one painting. To do this, you have to continually build up layers of paint and utilize various forms of shading to get where I’m going. Early on I realized that it was those patterns that not only gave the work a dimensional quality, but it really helped bring my paintings to life. The patterns really enhance the story I’m trying to tell.”
His creatures weave universal tales and subtle messages, open to interpretation by each viewer. The colors soothe. “In most cases, my paintings always include passion and a Peaceable Kingdom theme. I am fascinated with disparate characters getting along in my stories, like a lion and lamb, or mouse and a cat. In this way, I utilize a lot of animals as a metaphor for the imperfect man,” adds Don.
When he interviews clients for commissioned work, he tries to pull out as much of their personal story as possible, information that in some way might affect the painting. “From that overabundance of anecdotal information, I am able to glean a few gems that really bring their story to life, making the finished work that much more meaningful for them. I feel as though I’m creating a work of art that’s a significant part of their family heritage, something worthy of passing on to future generations. Understanding that their story is important to them is humbling to me.”
He has only wanted to paint the way he feels and sees and has been true to that truest of freedoms for each of these 40 years. Once seen, people know such work can only be a Cadoret. Even at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“I’m proud of that. I’ve never tried to paint in any style or like any other artist,” he says. “The coolest place that ever hung my work was probably the White House during the Clinton administration. I was asked by Hillary Clinton and her staff to create a small painting for the White House Christmas Tree one year, and it depicted their cat Socks standing out in the snow in front of the White House. I’ve been fortunate to have my work hang in some wonderful places all over the world.”