Depoto Lives Artist’s Life

From cartooning to live music, creativity a daily norm
There exists in Providence a breed of man that collectively composes the culture that defines the cherished scene which Motif Magazine stands for.
They are found on the stages of night clubs, the porches of coffee houses, working late night at studios.
The epitome of the artist and living the authentic creative life on all levels, Tony Depoto is a cartoonist, sign crafter, graffiti artist, RISD dropout, Navy vet, and harmonica and kazoo player — most well known to the public as the area’s premier washboard player.
“I can make it sound like a trumpet,” Depoto says about the kazoo, like Louis Armstrong or something.”
“I’m really not that interesting,” he insists, adjusting the black and white striped frames on his face that look as if they could be worn by a character in a Tim Burton film.
Raised in Bellingham Mass, Depoto eventually settled into a studio in nearby Warren where, after meeting Matt Martin — band leader of The Wippets, Angry Farmer, and Psychedelic Clown (among others) — at an open mic night, he joined the The Wippets along with guitarist, Sally Sisto. Soon the group traveled to New Orleans where Depoto discovered the washboard. Usually played with thimbles or spoons, he developed the technique of cutting the tips off of metal cigar tubes and wearing them on his fingers to play. The sound of tin strumming on aluminum that gives The Wippets their bluegrass rhythmic twang, which helped earn them a nomination for a Motif Music Award.
By trade, however, Depoto works as a visual artist.
“I would recommend tagging anytime,” he says. “I used to hitchhike to New York and just tag. We went to Coney Island one time and got caught by this gang. They made us show them where we tagged and they ended up liking it so much we just hung out that night and became friends.”
Now, at age 52, Depoto proves that the art of spray paint isn’t reserved for delinquent adolescents. During a brief substitute-teaching gig in Bristol, Depoto taught his class how to tag using sidewalk chalk.
“The parents were furious,” he says. “But it was so harmless. It was chalk! I was trying to teach them how to express themselves.”
Depoto also participates in art that isn’t illegal. He works freelance hand crafting signs for clients.
“They have this dream that they come to me with because they don’t have the means to do it themselves,” he saysof the joy he takes in seeing the look on his clients’ faces when he delivers a hand carved sign that is exactly what they wanted.
Along with crafting signs, Depoto has cartoons in publication, each of his animations serving as discrete reflections of his life such as, Open Mike, which follows the endeavors of a musician named Mike. Another, Damaged Goods, looks into the life of a divorced dad and his kid.
“[There’s] no turmoil or anger, the kid is just caught in the middle,” he says.
He is likely referencing his two daughters, aged 28 and 25, whom he spoke fondly of throughout the conversation.
“I see people that make a lot more [money] than me but they don’t have that gleam in their eye,” he says. “I just want to be able to help out my kids whenever I can.”
“I guess my life story,” Depoto says, is do what you love.”
He found inspiration in album covers and Monty Python animations at a young age and let those passions carry him to where he is now. Though happy with his minimalist lifestyle, Depoto admits he needs to get with the times. I’m going to buy my first lap top today, he says. “I don’t know what to name it yet though.”