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Michael Cadieux

"Montana" by Michael Cadieux (watercolor on paper).

A new book pairs a Missoula-area native's paintings about environmental destruction with the words of people from a broad cross section of fields.

"The Color of Being Born," out now on Jaded Ibis Press, includes more than 45 of Michael Cadieux's paintings in oil and watercolor, in addition to assemblage pieces.

The project, which was spearheaded by the publisher, places his intricate and cautionary messages on the environment next to writings from Ursula Vernon, a Hugo Award-winning writer; Linda Parkinson of the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center in California; NASA scientist Kevin Glazier; and other poets, artists and scientists.

The majority of the paintings are from a series of 36 that Cadieux developed over the course of 12 years, titled the "Nova Totem Landscapes."

Some, such as "Montana," depict a pristine mountainside carved apart by industrial development. He said he isn't aiming for realism, and indeed his works feature heightened color and exaggerated forms that lend to a nightmarish atmosphere.

The Piltzville native says they don't refer to any specific historical incident, only the general areas – which also include Jackson, Wyoming, or more far-flung locations such as Nepal.

"It's a generalized comment or bearing witness to that kind of destruction," he said.

The book takes its title from a Rumi verse:


Poles apart, I am the color of dying,

You are the color of being born,

Unless we breathe in each other there can be no garden

So, that's why the planets grow and laugh at our eyes,

which focus on distance


The book is part of Jaded Ibis Press' Giving Project. A portion of the proceeds from its sale will go toward the National Resources Defense Fund. Each essay or poem is also accompanied by a cause of the contributors' choice.


Cadieux doesn't have a particular composition in mind when he starts work on the paintings, which typically measure 22 by 36 inches.

He doesn't use standard watercolor techniques of washes or broad strokes. He instead opts for "tiny, tiny" marks – each painting can take some 250 hours to complete.

Some portions of the 111-page book are dedicated to works from outside that series. After more than 30 paintings, he'd said all he had to say on the subject. Many, though, are even more intricate – abstract, dot-based paintings that rely heavily on white. Some incorporate text, though, that hints at environmental or societal themes.

"I'm not just painting for the sake of painting," he said.

After graduating from the University of Montana with his MFA in 1964, Cadieux moved to Arizona, where he's taught at Arizona Western College.

The Bisbee-based artist has been part of more than 75 solo, competitive and invitational shows in the U.S. over the years.

He's only returned to Montana once though – he said the clear-cut mountainsides of his home state and the rapid growth of the Garden City were too much.

"I just didn't want to come back to see Missoula growing as fast as it is," he said.

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