The role of dogs in America has evolved from pet to part of the family, an evolution highlighted in the evocative portraits of artist and animal lover Jo Cataldo
Soul of a Dog draws on iconic portraiture styles from history, elevating the role of dogs in art from ornamental to portrait-worthy subjects in their own right.
"My paintings reflect the way I see dogs — as individuals and beloved family members, each with his or her own unique character, intelligence and personality," Cataldo explains. "For centuries, dogs were relegated to a decorative role in art. I wanted to take that part of a painting and make it the focus."
Cataldo's artistic process and her paintings combine her two great passions: dogs and art history. She generally works from a photograph, and develops an "inspiration" board of source materials based on extensive historical research. Her current work is an inquiry into the meaning of the dog in western society today. Each individual dog is portrayed in a manner that elevates and conveys the personality or “soul” of the subject (much as we have done to the dog itself in the quotidian). In addition these works serve as a vehicle for examining portraiture from an art historical perspective and as a reflection of what it means to be human… a distinction which is increasingly blurring.
"I paint in the context of the great styles of portraiture," she notes. "The style I select for each painting is informed by what I learn about the breed, its history and the individual dog’s personality."
A painting of a studious-looking cocker spaniel contemplating a ball, for example, is reminiscent of a Renaissance portrait in profile, while a serene Italian Greyhound is set against a background that brings to mind the highly decorative style of Austrian symbolist Gustav Klimt.
Like her love of dogs, Cataldo's love of art bloomed early. She was introduced to art at the age of seven, when her father began taking her on regular trips to New York's Metropolitan Museum. She later received formal training at the School of Visual Arts in New York, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and most recently, the New Art Center in Newtonville, Mass.
A lifelong dog owner, Cataldo now shares her home with Lucy, a Cairn terrier. Who also inspires her "I've painted landscapes for many years, but I find that truly capturing a dog's soul is so much more rewarding.”
Cataldo was a resident artist Gorse Mill Studios, an artist-owned working studio complex located at 31 Thorpe Road, Needham, Mass. until 2017. She now works out of her home studio in Needham.