Friday, March 13, 2015

Swimming Upstream

This morning George joined me in the bedroom after painting all night.  We stood at the window and watched the sunrise.
     “There’s only one owl,” I whispered.
     “Maybe they split up,” he replied.
But we both knew better.

We wanted to see the bears.

In 2003, while in Alaska, George Rodrigue and I flew in a seaplane to a remote shore area near a trailhead.  Neither of us were hikers; we preferred walking in the woods. This particular day we followed the trail while clapping and singing (Jimmy Swaggart spirituals, as I recall) lest we surprise the locals, finally reaching a small cabin-type structure over a river. 

Now quiet, we hunkered low in the lookout and waited.  

Immediately, we were distracted---not by bears, but by fish---so many salmon that to pinpoint one, much less count the many, was impossible.  They swam furiously in a sea of themselves, an undulating phenomenon.  I whispered to George,

“I’ve never seen anything or anyone fight so hard for something.”  

He nodded in silence and, amazed, we studied the situation, barely noticing the bears as they stuffed themselves at the buffet.

(pictured, Baby George and Boogie Bear, 1995 by George Rodrigue, silkscreen edition 90, 30x21 inches)

We learned later that the salmon, born in a small freshwater pond, swim with the current to the ocean, where they wander far and wide in the saltwater for several months or several years, depending on the variety, until an alarm sounds somewhere inside and says, That’s enough, Time to go, at which point they take a hard turn into that same freshwater stream, for an even harder fight, this time against the current, complete with boulders and raging water and bears, to reach the very place where they were born.

What’s the big deal with salmon fishing?...George and I wanted to know, realizing we could grab the fish with our hands.  Turns out, however, that by the time the fish begin this journey in earnest, they are already decomposing, a detail that makes no difference to a bear, but turns the stomach of us humans.

(from Why is Blue Dog Blue?; click photo to enlarge)

Of the millions of fish, approximately one percent reach the end or, depending on one’s perspective, the beginning.  Of those that do, the females, just prior to their deaths, lay their eggs in the shallow water.  The males, decaying all the while, use their last ounce of virility to fight over fertilization rights.  It’s no wonder, we mused, that a diet rich in salmon is recommended for increasing testosterone levels in humans.

At sunset, following a full day with the fish, we stood on the shore awaiting our return flight and, as a bonus, spotted the bald eagles.  In my memory, it seems that there were hundreds of them, a bird we seldom saw before, and only singularly, in the Big Sur Wilderness near Carmel.  Yet on this late summer’s day in Alaska, the most revered of America’s birds crowded the tops of the pines, no doubt attracted, like the bears, and like us, by the distracted and unsuspecting fish. 

(from Why is Blue Dog Blue?; click photo to enlarge)

Since visiting Alaska twelve years ago, we often recalled the salmon, especially during the last few months of George’s life. Their story unfolds like a Shakespearean drama, a metaphor for existence, really.  It’s dust-to-dust, with the will to live and the desire to love falling somewhere in between. 

Once, a few years ago, after several misdiagnoses regarding a skin discoloration on my torso, I became a class project (a lab rat) at a university hospital where the professor, standing over me, explained my rare condition.  As I reclined on the table while George and half a dozen interns looked on, the doctor stated, matter-of-factly,

“Your epidermis is decaying.”

In horrified unison and to the confusion of all, George and I exclaimed, 

 “Like the salmon?!” 

Followed by...

“Will I (she) smell?!”

(The skin condition, by the way, is called morphea; my case is painless and relatively mild, and it provides the excellent service of keeping my vanity in check.)

For all of his paintings of oak trees and one dog, George was not a naturalist or nature-painter.  Therefore I have no paintings of Alaska ---- or of salmon or bears (excepting stuffed bears) or eagles to share with you.  He did enjoy photographing nature. However, with a few exceptions, those images remain within his files, a place I can’t yet face.  So we’ll all have to wait and, as George would expect me to do anyway, revisit the salmon another time. 

As I’ve shared often within lectures and essays, although George admired plein air painters, he was not one himself; nor did he paint nature from his photographs, even though he used photography as a tool, usually cutting and pasting elements from the photographs to create fabricated designs on his canvas. 

He also used photography for inspiration.  In fact, in the late 1960s, before he painted Louisiana, he photographed it. After studying his slides he realized that no matter what or whom he photographed, “Every picture contained a tree.”

It was this realization that lead him to choose the Oak Tree as his shape and symbol, not based on a particular tree in nature, but rather on his tree, the one “in here,” he used to say, while clutching his chest. He developed a style of painting the tree, with hard edges and dissected by the canvas, so that the sky and light create interesting shapes beneath the branches, rather than overhead.

“If you stand here, Miss Wendy,” noted a wise child, as she took my hand during a school fieldtrip at the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, “the light shines from underneath the trees, just like in Mr. George’s paintings.”

(pictured, The Road Back, 2008 by George Rodrigue, water-based oil on canvas, 18x24; click photo to enlarge-)

These days, when I awaken at night, I don’t find George, as I did before, at his easel.  But I do feel him in these ‘fish stories’ and, although I’m rarely in Louisiana anymore, in nature.  I sense him on the white sands and green waters of Okaloosa Island, in the long shadows cast by the short New Mexican pinons, and within the eyes of animals he never painted ---- such as Zoey, my sister Heather’s family dog.

George and I felt linked to a pair of great horned owls that joined us for years to watch the sunrise from behind our home in Carmel Valley.  The giant nocturnal birds, however, always left in the morning mist, long before the light allowed a decent photograph.

On Thanksgiving Day 2014, in the golden afternoon sunshine of Galisteo, New Mexico, an unlikely visitor moved a small gathering to silence.  He remained a long time, maybe half an hour, watching these family and friends, among them myself, George’s son André, and, as a group, the artist-peers George most admired, the closest thing he knew to a Blaue Reiter or Vienna Secession, and the reason he visited Santa Fe every year since this artists' community first welcomed him with a solo exhibition in the mid-1980s.  One way or another, I heard from almost all of them over the following weeks, each one believing the owl to have been a mystical occurrence or visitor of some kind.

-click photo to enlarge-

I don’t know if George has tried to contact me or not.  I don't even know if I believe in such things.  I feel sure, however, that the owl is more likely a sign than the salmon, which is found, in my new southwestern home, only at select restaurants.  What I do know is that I’m still swimming upstream, looking for him, despite the odds ….. everywhere.


*With this return to blogging, I realize, at last, that I’m the keeper of the memories, and that if I don’t write them down and get them out of my head, then the stories end.  I also have journals of notes and half-finished essays based on conversations with George.  No promises on how often I'll post, however, because, well, reliving us without him is ….

*The companion images of George and of me within this post are digital collages (2013, 20x20 inches, editions 50; click photos to enlarge), a combination of paintings and photographs arranged and colored by George in his computer, then printed on heavy rag paper. Wendy is his last artwork that includes me; and Rodrigue is his last self-portrait-

*Our owl visitor was photographed by George's friend, artist Douglas Magnus. Over a 25-year period, the two collaborated on numerous unique buckles and jewelry designs, such as this belt, which they made for me in 2012-

*In recent months, the Rodrigue family took on personally both George's Facebook page and the foundation’s, expanding the posts to feature not only his art, but also quotes, stories, and photographs.  Please join us on Facebook at The Art of George Rodrigue and The George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.  Also, find us on instagram-

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Choo Choo Ch’Boogie (An Adventure)

Last year I often found George Rodrigue in his studio in the middle of the night.  He worked for weeks on the painting Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, yet instead of photographing him at his easel, I stood quietly behind and watched. 

(pictured:  Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, 2013 by George Rodrigue, acrylic on canvas, 48x60 inches)

At the time, he struggled with a medication’s side effects that temporarily altered his appearance.  We both believed that the treatment was working and that his health would improve, and capturing that difficult period with pictures seemed inappropriate.*

Interestingly enough, as I prepared to photograph the painting after it was finished, George stopped me:

“No. Wait. I don’t want anyone to see it yet.  I’m saving it.”

For what?

“Mmmmmm.  For Christmas.”

He painted it, he explained, intending a hand-pulled stone lithograph of the image, printed in the old style in Paris, France.  It would be his fourth print using this method, following Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a project for Amuse Bouche Winery in 2008, and Looking for a Beach House and Blue Dog Oak, both released earlier in 2013. (Click the print titles above for images and details of the process).

(pictured:  Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, 2014, Rodrigue estate stamp edition of 275, 30x40 inches, a lithograph printed in Paris, France, based on Rodrigue’s original painting, released this holiday season, one year after he intended; for price and availability, contact Rodrigue Studio or email; click photo to enlarge-)

Choo Choo Ch’Boogie is a perfect example of the classic Rodrigue style:  a stylized oak tree dissected by the canvas’s upper edge so that its lower branches form interesting blue shapes above the bushes. The subjects –the Oak Tree, the Blue Dog, and even the handmade carvings- connect a lifetime of painting and interests.

In the mid-1990s we visited the tiny town of Oberammergau, Germany, where George bought the wooden train and conductor, along with several other carved pieces, such as the artist figurine he used in Pop Goes the Revel (below), a 1998 painting and poster for the Red River Revel in Shreveport, Louisiana.

And in 1983, he used wooden figurines from an earlier trip to Germany to create the painting that would become a Festivals Acadiens poster in Lafayette, Louisiana. 

Read the story behind this special painting, along with George’s quotes about his fascination with these figurines, here-

In addition, George held a lifelong obsession with trains.  One year we drove in our truck to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado to ride again the cog train he recalled from a childhood vacation.  We rode the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Train two years in a row so that he could experience both the open and closed cars.  And it was by train that we traveled from Munich to Oberammergau to collect the wooden figures he would later use in his paintings.

George painted Choo Choo Ch’Boogie for himself, never intending the painting for sale.  He hung it on the wall of our home, alongside He Stopped Loving Her Today, his tribute to George Jones, also painted last year.

(pictured, George Rodrigue (right) with his childhood friend, Jordan “J.L.” Louviere; Carmel, California, Summer 2013; George wears a t-shirt designed by his dear friend, Lafayette artist Tony Bernard; click photo to enlarge-)

George titled his painting Choo Choo Ch’Boogie based on the popular song.  Although first recorded in 1946 by Louis Jordan, George probably became familiar with “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” in the late 1950s after he got his first transistor radio, about the same time Bill Haley and the Comets recorded their version of the song for their album Rock ‘n’ Roll Stage Show (1956).

His favorite recording in recent years, however, is the one we sang along with as we crossed the country annually in our truck. We grew fond of Asleep at the Wheel in the late 1990s when we toured with the band for Neiman Marcus events in Texas and Hawaii. Listen and sing along here

(pictured:  photograph by George Rodrigue, 2013; see more here; click image to enlarge-)

Just as George intended this print’s release last Christmas, he also intended that I share its history with you at that time.  So this post, like the new print, is a way of following through on that commitment.  Although this return to blogging is short-lived, I’m ever-mindful of George’s legacy, specifically the history behind his style and individual artworks, and I sincerely hope you’ll continue to explore the blog’s hundreds of essays.  The most popular are listed by category down the right side of this page; and the rest are available through the search feature and dated archives, also located to the right.

I also thank you for purchasing The Other Side of the Painting (2013, UL Press).  George and I were unable to tour with the book as we’d planned; and I’m unable to do so without him.  But it is his story, and our story, full of history, nostalgia, quotes, and more.  As fans of his art, I encourage you to explore it if you haven’t already.  100% of the proceeds benefit the arts-in-education programs of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.  More details at this link-

Are you scared? I asked George late one night last December, as we breathed together, my head against his chest.

“No,” he laughed, a mere whisper, yet still in his Snagglepuss-style. “It’s an adventure!” he continued, perhaps thinking of the trains, his eyes wide and bright like an expressive dog’s.

But we take all of our adventures together…

“I know,” he replied, still smiling, even happy, as he wiped my tears.  “But you can’t come on this one, Wendy.  Not yet.”


*George’s health did improve for a time, and I photographed him at his easel as he worked on the painting He Stopped Loving Her Today.  Story and images here-

-for questions/comments, contact Rodrigue Studio or email

-Don’t miss the special retrospective exhibitions, including original works and memorabilia from our private collection and George’s archives, on view through January 2015 at Rodrigue Studio New Orleans, Lafayette, and Carmel; more info here-

-With sincere thanks to the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, the State Library of Louisiana, Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne, and the Louisiana Book Festival, which dedicates this year’s festival (Nov. 1, 2014) to George Rodrigue.  Details here-

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Farewell, For Now

Dear Friends,

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your kind messages, articles and prayers.  I know that many of you are hurting, and I am truly touched not only by your memorial tributes for George, but also that you reached out to me personally.

I also thank you for your generous donations to the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.  Our family is more determined than ever to continue its educational and scholarship programs.

George Rodrigue’s three galleries will reopen this month, beginning with New Orleans on January 16, 2014, followed soon after by Lafayette and Carmel.  Our remarkable, dedicated staff remains intact and, in the midst of their own grief, ready to resume work, sharing George’s art and life with others.

We will begin with exhibitions devoted to George’s history, including photographs, articles, and original artwork from our home, his studio, and his archives.  In addition, we’ll present throughout the coming year several new silkscreen prints, beginning with artwork designed by George in 2013 for this purpose.

(pictured, Mardi Gras 2014, 30x40 inches; a painting by George Rodrigue, which he intended as a silkscreen print; for information on this and other available works, please join our mailing list-)

George’s younger son, Jacques Rodrigue, energized by his youth and his dedication to his dad’s legacy, assumes full-time gallery management, even as he continues his leadership within the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts and Louisiana A+ Schools.  In addition, George’s facebook page remains active thanks to Jacques and his team.

George’s older son, André Rodrigue, remains in Lafayette at Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro and the Blue Dog Café, where most days you’ll find him relaying history at his increasingly crowded table, or making seafood wontons in the kitchen, both with equal diligence and importance, and both imbued with his natural spirit of kindness and generosity towards friends and strangers alike.

(pictured:  The Rodrigue Family during the exhibition Rodrigue's Louisiana:  Forty Years of Cajuns, Blue Dogs and Beyond Katrina at the New Orleans Museum of Art, 2008-)

And me? I’ll remain involved peripherally for now, advising quietly as needed, while otherwise allowing these capable young men to lead the galleries and foundation in new directions.  I know that they, as much as me, remain, above all else, mindful of the awesome responsibility of their father’s legacy.

At the top of this letter, I thanked you for your messages.  However, I must be honest.  On my computer sits more than one thousand unread emails.  My telephone voicemail is full.  The newspaper and magazine articles remain unread.  And your cards and packages sit unopened, stacked high in our foyer.  I know that they are there.  I know that you are there.  But I can’t face any of it at this time.  Please know that I will return to the telephone and mail on the days when I most need to hear your voice and read your words.  And in the meantime, I'm comforted just knowing that your messages await.  

I hope you’ll forgive me not only for the confession above, but also because I must retreat from the public life and, to a great degree, from our private lives, for now.  To those of you who might worry, please know that I am not alone, and that I will be Somewhere. 

Finally, until and if I’m capable of writing again, I share with you, my gentle readers, George’s last words...

"You're my Wendy."

Take care of yourselves.  Take care of your loved ones.

Wendy Wolfe Rodrigue

-I leave you with hundreds of on-line essays at Musings of an Artist’s Wife, dedicated to George, along with a new book, The Other Side of the Painting, chronicling his history, his art, and our lives together.  100% of these proceeds benefit the arts in education programs of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.  More info at this link:

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Cora’s Restaurant and CODOFIL

In 1968 attorney and former Louisiana State Senator and U.S. Representative Jimmy Domengeaux* (1907-1988) of Lafayette founded the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, known as CODOFIL. Impressed with the initiative, Louisiana Governor John McKeithen pushed through a bill that granted the organization the necessary state credentials.

(pictured:  In 1912 Louisiana Governor Hall issued a special edict that French could no longer be spoken in schools; George Rodrigue’s He-bert, Yes – A Bear, No is one of fifteen paintings from his Saga of the Acadians, 1985-1989, detailed here-)
In order to save the French culture in Louisiana, Domengeaux, CODOFIL’s president from 1968 until his death in 1988, championed the French language, reintroducing it into the state’s public schools. Through an ambitious plan, he imported teachers from France and Canada to Louisiana and, remarkably, convinced the French government to fund the program.
The first one hundred and fifty applicants chose between two years in the French army and two years in the small town parishes of Louisiana. They lived in private homes and taught the proper French, as opposed to the Cajun dialect, a controversial decision that resulted in mixed and prolific press for Domengeaux, whose bigger-than-life persona attracted considerable public attention.
“He was sarcastic, flamboyant and crude,” explains artist George Rodrigue about his old friend, “and he was desperate to preserve the unique culture of south Louisiana, just as I tried with my paintings. 
“We got along great.”

(pictured:  Rodrigue and Domengeaux with Rodrigue’s Broussard’s Barber Shop, The Lafayette Daily Advertiser, 1971-)
It was Domengeaux who told George about Cora’s Restaurant, a combination grocery store, boarding house, restaurant and bar located during the 1930s and 1940s in the country outside of Lafayette.
“There’s no record of these old places,” explained Domengeaux.

George painted the long-gone establishment using his imagination, but based on his friend’s description. According to Domengeaux, the restaurant’s cuisine was more Creole than Cajun. Known for great food, Cora’s and places like it were unusual because of their diversity, attracting Cajuns, Creoles and African Americans. 

The place employed a large staff, including children, most of whom boarded on the property. For the painting, George invented the people, recreating them in his typical Cajun style, all in white, without shadow, and locked into the landscape.

(pictured:  Cora’s Restaurant, 1975 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 36x48 inches; click photo to enlarge-)
According to George, Domengeaux grew frustrated with the general lack of interest in this faded part of Louisiana’s history. In Cora’s Restaurant, beneath the enormous oaks, these timeless figures glow with Louisiana’s culture, reinforcing on canvas both Rodrigue’s and Domengeaux’s mission.
In addition, Domengeaux and Rodrigue held shows in Lafayette for French painters Valadier, Surrier and Brenot, presenting the artists with keys to the city and exposing the local community to these French masters. At one such exhibition in the late 1970s, French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing attended, with hopes of further strengthening the Louisiana-France bond.

(pictured:  Artists Valadier, Madame Surrier, Surrier, and Rodrigue; a Valadier painting leans on the floor, and a Surrier hangs on the wall; The Lafayette Daily Advertiser, circa 1979-)
By the late 1970s, Domengeaux's fame extended to France, where people often thought that he was the President of Louisiana. According to George, Domengeaux enjoyed more clout than Governor Edwin Edwards. At one point, in fact, the CODOFIL president tussled with the State Department for cutting a deal on his own with a foreign government. As usual, however, Domengeaux charmed his way out of the mess and got what he wanted.
Whether or not one applauds his methods, Jimmy Domengeaux’s pride in Louisiana’s heritage drove his life’s mission and deserves admiration. His efforts produced a lasting and positive effect on our state. At a time when many dismissed Louisiana’s fading culture, particularly the French influences within small town, southwest Acadiana, he cherished it. Through CODOFIL, one man made a difference.
“I’m proud to have known Domengeaux,” says George Rodrigue about his old friend. “He’s a true Louisiana legend.”

*the pronunciation of “Domengeaux” is close to “DiMaggio,” as in the baseball player-
-a new Rodrigue book, The Other Side of the Painting, is “an illuminating, lively memoir recounting a husband and wife’s devotion to the arts;” learn more here-
-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Rembrandt: A Memory

In the summer of 2005, George Rodrigue and I visited Amsterdam.  Rembrandt’s house was recently opened to the public.  Because he declared bankruptcy, a detailed list exists of his 1656 belongings, enabling today’s historians to replace every furnishing, fossil, and vase from his vast collections.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) was an art rock star, both during his lifetime and since. Without gallery representation, he sold his work from a gallery inside his home (just as George did for years), ushering potential buyers into a side room, where they chose from his latest paintings, hung salon-style, stacked to high ceilings. 

(pictured below, a wall of Rodrigue festival posters in the artist’s home, Lafayette, Louisiana, circa 1985; also, Rodrigue Studio today, New Orleans-)

-click photos to enlarge-

Rembrandt lived well, even lavishly, in a situation as rare at that time as it is today – a financially successful artist; and, in a less surprising scenario, an artist living beyond his means.

Touring his home felt like prying and honoring, similar to a tour of Graceland.  For George and me, homage and curiosity won out over snooping as, at our guide’s insistence, George created an etching from a copper plate on Rembrandt’s printing press.

I watched the face of this great 21st century artist as he operated the press and then, almost beyond belief, sat at the great 17th century artist’s easel.   He laughed nervously, but fully, his distinct features more pronounced than ever, helplessly khee-hee-hee-ing, a sound as associated by his friends with George as it is by cartoon-lovers with Snagglepuss. 

We lost our camera on that trip, but perhaps my memory is the better record, as I recall George star struck over an artist more than three hundred years dead.

George Rodrigue’s face reflects a Cajun's and artist's ethos.  It’s memorable, with exaggerated features.  His pronounced cheeks protrude, and his deep set green eyes watch intently without widening.  His nose, chin, mouth and forehead have what most people call “character,” defined by hard lines, not to be confused with wrinkles, forming shapes on his face similar to the strong shapes on his canvas

(pictured, George Rodrigue with his portrait by New Orleans artist David Harouni, 2012; learn more here-)

Rembrandt also had a distinctive face.  We know this because of his self-portraits, nearly one hundred in all, including paintings, etchings, and drawings.  They chronicle his changes in visage and maturity, while also reflecting his deep understanding of his creative calling.

As George sat at Rembrandt’s easel, I sat across the room at Rembrandt’s apprentice’s table.  Using a mortar and pestle, I ground the colored rocks into powder, adding linseed oil to make paste and, finally, paint, connecting me also to the past, so that I shared in George’s moment.


-for a related post, see "Blue Fall in Louisiana," linked here-

-for the latest reviews of The Other Side of the Painting, a new Rodrigue book, click here-

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Truth, I Swear

My sister talked me into posting "15 facts that people might not know" recently on my family facebook page.  The reactions ranged from surprise to confessions to fun. Emboldened, and as a little something different on this blog, I post them again here, along with a few photos (click to enlarge).  

1-I was born on a military base in Dover, Delaware.

2-When I was five, my mom, while pregnant, asked me to name my sister, which I did while picking flowers in the woods on Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany.

(pictured, Wendy, Germany, 1969)

3-I gave our mom three options: Dandelion, Edelweiss, and Heather.

(pictured, Mama brings Heather home from the hospital, Germany, 1972)

4-I had a pet squirrel named Fuzzy Wuzzy that I hand-fed from my bedroom window in Shalimar, Florida.

(pictured, our house, 16 Magnolia Drive, 1973-1977, in Shalimar, Florida, as it looks today; my bedroom window was on the 2nd floor, far left-)

5-Fuzzy Wuzzy was shot dead in 1975 by my best friend's brother, using a bb gun. I'm still mad.

6-Chip Totten was my first boyfriend. We were seven.

(note: Chip commented that I later cornered him for a kiss beneath our 4th grade classroom table; however, having blocked that out years ago, I don't recall it as a fact-)

7-My senior year of high school, my "profession test" stated that I should attend vo-tech school and become a mechanic.

(pictured, Mama/Mignon, Heather, Wendy/Dolores, and HAIR, during Mardi Gras, my senior year of high school, 1985)

8-As a teenager, my cousin Kelly gave me the pseudonym, "Dolores Pepper." The name stuck, and I dated several guys well into my 20s who thought that was my name.

(pictured above, a young Dolores Pepper and Flower Anne (a.k.a. Kelly), 1970s, New Orleans; below, George Rodrigue's silkscreen, created after I fessed up, and in our honor, Dolores Pepper and Flower Anne, 2009, on view at Rodrigue Studio; read more about Dolores and Flower, if you dare, in The Other Side of the Painting-)

9-In the 1980s, my mom let me join her and her friends for Ladies Night at the Seagull and the Landing (both long-gone nightspots in Fort Walton Beach, Florida), provided I call her "Mignon." If I slipped up, I had to leave.

10-I was once mistaken for Kim Basinger while buying a Christmas tree. The guy at the lot insisted I take the tree for free. I gave him an autograph.

11-During family gatherings, I sometimes call my husband, "Dad," and my dad, "George." Fortunately, alcohol is always involved.

(pictured, Heather, Dad and me, when Heather and I surprised our dad for his birthday with a double-renewal of our wedding vows during a 2005 pool party, New Orleans; the purpose was to get pictures with both of his daughters in their wedding dresses; riiiiiggghhhtttt....-)

12-After wearing them for months, I complained to George that the "R" is backwards in the "WR" earrings he designed. Turns out I was looking at them in the mirror.

13-I have so many Neil Diamond shirts that I can't count them all. I would like a Neil Diamond hoodie, but I haven't found one yet.

(note: before you start looking, the links are already pouring in, and I feel fairly sure I'll find one under the tree this year-)

14-For years, I have highlighted my hair.

15-My two favorite words are "Aunt Wendy."

Hope you enjoyed; next post, back to the arts!


-pictured above, nephews Wyatt and William with Zoey; Tallahassee, Florida, October 2013; see also my sister Heather's blog, Adventures of a BMX Mom, linked here-

-for the latest reviews of The Other Side of the Painting, a new Rodrigue book, visit here-

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-

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Monday, November 11, 2013

The Lone Artist

“The artist is involved with art as a way of life.”*

George Rodrigue and I discuss often the definition of art.  We study the roles of craft, commercialism, high and low art, concluding always that there is no definitive answer, but that the fun ---indeed the tradition--- lies in the debates.

Ideally, art reflects the artist's soul and stimulates a personal connection for the viewer.  While creating, however, the artist exists in a solitary place, separate in both thought and actuality from the opinions and influence of others.

“I see no need for a community,” stated artist David Hare (1917-1992).  “An artist is always lonely.  The artist is a man who functions beyond or ahead of his society.”

(pictured, It’s Never the Same, 2007 by George Rodrigue, acrylic on canvas, 36x24 inches, on view at Rodrigue Studio-)

This week George and I read together the transcripts from Studio 35, specifically a three-day gathering in 1950 of Abstract Expressionists (although they debated that label as well), including Hans Hofmann, Robert Motherwell, Louise Bourgeois and a few dozen others.  During these closed sessions, the artists debated terminology and addressed questions such as,

How do you know when a painting is finished? Is it better to title a painting or give it a number? Should artwork be signed? Can a straight line be considered a pure expression?

(pictured, Five Balls, 1963 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 40x40 inches; click photo to enlarge-)

Their comments spanned the width of their minds, as they blended experience, contemplation, and personalities.  I asked George the questions too, because I recognized in these artists similar approaches to his own.

“I don’t understand, in a painting,” noted Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967), “the love of anything except the love of painting itself.”

….and from George Rodrigue: 

“My favorite painting is always the one I’m working on now.”

When discussing how to know when a painting is finished, several artists spoke of the need for multiple works.

“That’s why you have to study ten to fifteen paintings together,” interjected George, as though he sat in on this session.  “If one stands off from the others, then you’ve overworked it, and it’s too much.

“The group is more important than the single canvas, especially when it comes to learning how to stop.  Looking at the group is the only way to see what you’re doing.”

(pictured, George Rodrigue works on Bodies in his Carmel studio, 2004; click photo to enlarge-)

Regarding process and philosophy, the group never agreed, reaffirming the personal nature of art.  They all agreed in their dismissal, however, of not only public popularity, but also museums and academia, an irony given their status on all fronts today.  George, too, lumps these audiences together:

“If you try to paint to please a public or a critic,” says George, “you’ll never create anything lasting, anything new, or anything purely your own.”

This attitude dictates approach.  In George’s case, for example, he ignores outside perception (most often, too many Blue Dogs, or for years, too many Oaks), in favor of what he knows to be true regarding the challenges in repeating these subjects.  For him, as he works within this four-sided canvas environment, shapes and colors are king.  It is because of this abstract approach that he never tires of his subjects.

“One shape in relation to other shapes makes the ‘expression;’ not one shape or another, but the relations between the two makes the ‘meaning’.” –Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)

(pictured, The Last Puzzle Piece, 2013 by George Rodrigue, acrylic on canvas, 40x60; click photo to enlarge-)

By the time George reached art school in the 1960s, his professors spoke of “the death of easel painting.”  The same museums and academic elite that once eschewed the Abstract Expressionists now revered their movement, pushing it to the forefront of popular culture as well.  Pop Art was the new guy on the block, dismissed in the same way as its predecessors.

(pictured, “We are so walking on a Pollock painting,” gasped sisters and artists Mallory Page and Natalie Domingue, visiting recently Jackson Pollock’s house and studio in East Hampton, New York; click photo to enlarge-)

“I can tell by their questions that these are all artists from the 50s,” continued George about the Studio 35 sessions.  “As time went by, the questions answered themselves, because the progression of art – not the artists themselves – dictates the direction.”


*David Hare, from Artists’ Sessions at Studio 35 (1950), Edited by Robert Goodnough, Soberscove Press/Wittenborn Art Books, 2009-

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