Tom Dudones shares his artistry with people around the world
SARANAC LAKE — For the past few years, Tom Dudones has given away his paintings and illustrations for free. One went to a friend in Germany. Another went to his cousin in British Colombia, Canada. A painting of the Lake Flower Dam went to a friend in Australia. A woman in Africa received a few watercolor pieces as a thank-you gift for guiding his birdwatching tour.
After a while, Dudones wondered to himself, “Where else can my artwork go?”
Toward the end of April, Dudones began marketing his adopt-a-painting project on his Facebook page and a few other sites. The art is free, and he takes care of the postage cost. In two months, he’s sent art to nearly 40 countries — Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Zambia, to name a few.
“You may ask yourself, ‘What’s in it for him?'” Dudones said. “The answer is I get to make a connection with someone in a country I probably never will visit. But at least I’ll have made that peaceful connection at that point in the world, and that’s enough.”
Dudones entered the Tupper Lake Library art show last year. He wrote on the back of his painting, “Hi, if you buy this, can you at least email me and tell me what city it’s going to.”
It sold, but the buyer never emailed Dudones.
“When you put work into something like that and it just disappears, you wonder, where did that go?” Dudones asked. “Did it go to New Jersey? Is it in Cleveland? Is it in Tupper Lake? That bothered me a little. At least this way, I’ll know where the piece is going, and I will have made a connection somewhere.”
Dudones’s work now currently hangs in every continent besides Antarctica, but he’s reached out to a bird study group and wants to send them a watercolor of penguins.
One concern with a project like this is postage, but Dudones said it’s nothing to worry about.
“It’s quite reasonable,” he said. “For the most part, I’ve kept the sizes 6 inches by 9 inches.”
He held up a United States Postal Service envelope and said, “One of these going anywhere in the world pretty much is about $3. Once you start increasing the size, though, it takes a huge increase. It doesn’t just go on a regular scale. A 12-inch -by-15-inch piece can be $75.”
In his shop, Dudone’s had a photo of a blue morpho butterfly taped to his desk. He’s been recreating it with watercolors and will soon send it to a person in a different country.
The pieces are good enough, so why doesn’t he sell his art?
“I did commissions twice,” he said. “Then I had to stop.”
A friend asked Dudones to do a watercolor of his significant other from when she was younger. However, the only photo the friend had was a 50-kilobyte digital file — that’s small.
“It was really tiny and hard to see,” he said, “but I spent a week on it and did my best.”
Dudones was happy with the outcome, but the friend wasn’t, so Dudones ripped it up. The friend called back two weeks later, asking if Dudones could just tone down some of the colors in the eyes.
“I could if he told me two weeks ago,” Dudones said.
Now 72 years old and retired from a career in the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Dudones spends his time creating art for both himself and people around the world.
Nearly every room in Dudones house is decorated with his art. Tropical birds line the walls of the upstairs bathroom as if it were their natural jungle habitat. In the guest room, American sex symbol Marilyn Monroe hangs on the door. It was a birthday present for his daughter. On the far wall, Audrey Hepburn smokes from a long cigarette holder. In between the beds is a small depiction of Robert F. Kennedy, the only presidential candidate Dudones liked.
The dining room houses a painting of folk singer Bob Dylan and his then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo, snuggling up as they walk down a Manhattan street — the cover to “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” record. Next to that is an oil painting of the Saranac Lake Union Depot train station. It captures a clear winter evening from decades ago.
“I actually looked up the star maps from that date,” Dudones said, “just so they’re all in the right spot.”
There’s only one room that doesn’t have any pieces.
“The Kitchen,” Dudones said. “Too much grease and dirty stuff. We’d never be able to clean any of the art.”
Next to his work desk are portfolio books filled with art. One is just watercolors of birds. Another is just drawing of pop idols such as Buddy Holly and Humphrey Bogart. Possibly Dudones’s favorite portfolio contains only drawings of 1960 sidecar motorcycle racers, performing dangerous turns.
“It was a wild sport,” he said. “Lot of people died in it.”
The peculiar thing about Dudone’s art is that it’s not consistent. Each piece looks like it could’ve been done by someone else.
“I try not to be stuck in any one style or any one medium,” he said. “If I’ve been doing watercolors for a while and painting butterflies, I’ll tell myself to break out the oils instead. You don’t want to lose that touch. I try to mix it up and keep the variety.”
He once had an art show at the Saranac Lake Free Library, where he showcased landscapes, portraits and abstracts. One lady said to him, “None of this stuff looks the same.”
Dudones replied, “That’s the idea.”
Two of the first paintings Dudones ever did are landscapes with dark, earthy colors, which are vastly different from his vibrant hippos and recreation of “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer.
“I was a younger man back then,” he said. “I’d like to think I’ve changed and that my art has changed, too.”