Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Moment

“What are you thinking about?” I asked George, following hours of silence.  “The road,” he replied.

After dozens of cross-country journeys together over twenty years, his answer was always the same.  So I stopped asking, and pondered, instead, his answer.

George wasn’t speaking of the asphalt, although he did reminisce about old Route 66 and the way it hugged the terrain.  He was more likely to note the O’Keeffe clouds, the long shadows, the golden light, the far horizon, the WEST

(pictured:  Santa Fe Sky, 2013 by George Rodrigue, an unrealized design for metal found on his computer; click photo to enlarge-)

During these long hours in our truck, through his dedication (as opposed to discipline) at his easel, and by the way he stared from the hill behind our house in Carmel Valley, George taught me about the moment.  It came naturally to him.  He was always in it.

(pictured:  Rodrigue in Studio, 2011 by George Rodrigue; click photo to enlarge)

I don’t think I fully understood the moment until the last few months of George’s illness.  Encouraged by his doctors and by my own optimism, I honestly believed he was going to pull through.  I didn’t imagine it or dream it as a possibility; rather, I thought about him, and about us, in what I now think is the same way he thought about the road.  

There was less worry concerning what might or might not happen then there was in just being with what was happening.  Something as simple as holding hands or exchanging a look became the whole of the experience.

My last post was “normal and informative about George and his art,” noted my sister, “like the old days.”  I knew it couldn’t last, though, as I’ve struggled to post something, anything, in recent weeks.  You see, it’s the holidays, eleven years since Mignon and two years since George, and it’s complicated.  This moment calls for something else ---- something just as true in fact, but even truer in sentiment.

I recently saw the movie/documentary Peggy Guggenheim:  Art Addict and reflect again on my role, such as it is, in life, in the art world, and in George’s world.  I don’t have her name, nor her money.  Although I collect art, I’ve never thought of myself as a “patron” of the arts, as a Peggy Guggenheim who discovers, nurtures, and takes credit for the likes of Pollock and Calder and Ernst.  I’ve always been uncomfortable with the notion, suggested by some, that I enhanced or at least shifted George’s career.  

Make no mistake… George was a prolific painter and artistic genius long before I came along.  I don’t deserve credit for anything but the easiest and most natural of realities --- I loved him.  That is all.

(pictured:  Hot Dog Halo 1995, George's first painting of me, and Blue Hands circa 2000 by Mignon Wolfe, because sometimes I place my hands on hers, and she's there--- as they hang at this moment in my bedroom-)

I’ve often heard that when a person loses their life’s partner that their friends drift away, not knowing how best to help or relate to the situation.  Because I was in a focused moment during George’s last weeks of life and in a foggy moment for much of the past two years, I never thought about this in terms of my own situation.

Upon reflection, however, the truth is that in my case, friends tried, with genuine concern and affection, to help.  I was the one who pushed them away.  It could even be said that I abandoned them, unable to face mine and George’s world--- the world that is represented by New Orleans, Carmel, and our many friends--- without him.

I know it’s selfish of me.  People have explained that in shutting them out, I’m enhancing their pain.  I’m a link to George.  I have been for a long time.  Over the years many people befriended me with hopes of growing closer to him.  That never bothered me, because I too wanted to be close to him.  I understand, perhaps better than anyone, this desire to be in his world!

It is for this reason that I’ve committed to returning to New Orleans and, to some degree, a public life.  It’s the right thing to do --- for George, for our friends, and for his fans and collectors.  At this time, it’s not a permanent or even long return, but it is my biggest leap so far in this direction.

I’ll be in Louisiana early December visiting schools with the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, opening the new Blue Dog Café in Lake Charles, signing books at the UL Press Holiday Book Sale and, along with my stepsons André and Jacques, hosting a New Orleans gallery reception.  

If these moments transcend, placing myself and others firmly on a new road lined with George's visions and dreams, I’ll return more often, and maybe, just maybe, find a way once again to call Louisiana (and eventually, Carmel) home.


Pictured above, Wendy's Beach, 2013 by George Rodrigue, an unrealized design for metal found on George's computer; click photo to enlarge-

-Please join me in the moment for next week's public events.  In both cases, I’ll be signing The Other Side of the Painting, a book I wrote about George’s life and art, donating 100% of my proceeds to the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, including college scholarships, art supplies for schools, and arts integration through Louisiana A+ Schools:
---December 1st  (Tuesday) in Lafayette, Louisiana:  UL Holiday Book Sale at the UL Alumni Center, 600 E. St. Mary Blvd. 5-7 p.m. FREE. Details linked here-
---December 3rd (Thursday) in New Orleans:  a reception honoring George Rodrigue, featuring the special exhibition “Louisiana Graveyards” at Rodrigue Studio, 730 Royal St. 6-8 p.m. FREE; please r.s.v.p. gus@georgerodrigue.com.  Details linked here-

-In addition, in the spirit of the moment, I’m now posting on Instagram-

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Saints on the Bayou

“As I grow older, my mind expands. I suspend reality on my canvas with greater confidence, exploring not just the trees and grass, but also the mysterious and the mystical.”-George Rodrigue, 2012

(Saints on the Bayou, 2009 by George Rodrigue, now available as a fine art print; click the photo to enlarge this beautiful late landscape, painted on canvas with water-based oil, 15x30 inches)

From his earliest Landscapes and throughout his paintings of Cajuns, Blue Dogs, and the late figurative works, Bodies, George incorporated his fascination with Louisiana’s cemeteries into his artwork.

Along with shrimp boats and oak trees, these “Cities of the Dead” were among his first subjects once he “got serious and abandoned any thoughts of a real job” (he used to say)--- dedicating his life to painting.

(pictured, Untitled, 1971 by George Rodrigue, 24x12 inches, oil on canvas; click photo to enlarge-)

“The tombs seem to float above the ground to reveal the relationship between living and dead, states which are not that different ---at least to the Cajuns, who really do live with the dead.”--- George Rodrigue, The Cajuns of George Rodrigue (Oxmoor House, 1976).

This interest in tombs transitioned easily within the Blue Dog Series.  The first Blue Dog painting, in fact, includes tomb-like stepping stones, referencing the loup-garou, a mythical Cajun ghost dog or werewolf said to lurk in cemeteries.

(pictured, the first Blue Dog painting, Watch Dog, 1984 by George Rodrigue, 40x30 inches, oil on canvas, full story here-)

In one of his last paintings, He Stopped Loving Her Today, George again visits this motif:

"I wanted to paint a tribute to George Jones," he explained.  "I've loved this song for thirty years, and even though I've painted the Blue Dog before on tombs, this one is particularly special, because I reference the woman he loves.  Her hat is a remembrance alongside his grave."  Read more-

(pictured, He Stopped Loving Her Today, 2013 by George Rodrigue, 60x40 inches, acrylic on canvas; click photo to enlarge-)

George’s parents were the youngest of a combined twenty-four siblings.  As a result, the young artist grew up attending funerals.  He recalled his mother, devout in her Catholicism, white-washing the tombs of her parents on All Saints Day in his hometown of New Iberia, Louisiana, and he often helped his father in the family business, “Rodrigue’s Portable Concrete Burial Vaults.”

South Louisiana’s recurrent flash floods occasionally caused problems, and in some cases the tombs floated from their plots.  Wearing rubber waders and carrying a sledgehammer, young George knocked the corners from the floating tombs, sinking them for good.

“I call this painting A Safe Place Forever" (1984, pictured above), explained George.  “When I was a child, a flood swept through the great Atchafalaya basin, carrying with it everything that wasn’t nailed down or buried (and you can’t bury much in the swampy bayou).”

 “When the waters receded, I was among the first to discover a large stone casket cradled in the branches of a huge oak tree.  The people in the parish took this as a fearful omen, and so there the tomb stayed for many weeks, haunting us from its perch.”

(pictured above, Spirits in the Trees, 1992 by George Rodrigue, 33x23 inches, original silkscreen edition of 85; story here-)

(pictured above, A Sea Chest of Secrets (Pirate Jean Lafitte), 1984 by George Rodrigue; oil on canvas, 40x30 inches; story here-)

Throughout his career, George explored the supernatural in his artwork.  He painted the Cajuns as though they are ghosts, floating, often without feet, and yet locked into the landscape and framed by the trees.  Cut off at the top, the near-black oak creates interesting shapes beneath its branches.  The small bright sky represents the hope of a displaced people.

(pictured, The Day We Told Tee Coon Good-bye, 1976 by George Rodrigue, 24x36 inches, oil on canvas; click photo to enlarge-)

Although they live in what should be darkness beneath the trees, Rodrigue’s figures glow from the inside, illuminated by their spirits and culture.  They are timeless, mysterious and otherworldly.

In the case of Walking After Midnight (2004, pictured above), George combined a photograph he took at voodoo queen Marie Laveau’s tomb at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans, with a photograph he took of me, staged before a solid backcloth within his California studio.  In this highly structured design, he added his signature oak tree, balancing the composition for both his original painting and, ultimately, the large-scale print currently on view within “Louisiana Graveyards.”

The painting, as with most of the Bodies canvases, consists of a flesh-toned, natural nude figure on a black and white background.  This enabled George to manipulate the colors and saturation in his computer before printing the final artwork.  The result is some fifty unique images from the Bodies Series on canvas, paper, and metal, ranging in date from 2003 to 2013 --- many of which reference cemeteries.

“I try to show that the tombs and the people are very much alike,” explained George.  “They both are suspended.  They both are painted the same.  They both have the same texture, and they both are locked in South Louisiana.”  


*Saints on the Bayou (2009), pictured at the top of this post, is available as a fine art silkscreen, issued November 2015; estate-stamped edition of 250; contact Rodrigue Studio or email info@georgerodrigue.com for details-

-pictured above: “Grotto on Rampart Street,” photograph by George Rodrigue, 2002-

-pictured throughout this post:  selections from “Louisiana Graveyards,” a unique exhibition featuring original Rodrigue paintings from 1971-2013, on view through December 19th, 2015 at Rodrigue Studio, New Orleans; details here-

-please join me, along with George's sons André and Jacques, at Rodrigue Studio New Orleans for a reception honoring George Rodrigue and these unique works;  Thursday, December 3rd, 6-8 p.m. RSVP and more information- gus@georgerodrigue.com or (504) 324-9614

-meet Jacques Rodrigue and Mallory Page Rodrigue, son and daughter-in-law of artist George Rodrigue, signing and presenting two new books -- Rodrigue:  The Sanders Collection and The Alchemy Never Starts or Never Stops -- at the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge this Saturday, October 31st, 3:00 p.m.  Details here-

-see the links under "Rodrigue News" at the upper right of this post for a listing of current museum and gallery exhibitions featuring the art of George Rodrigue-

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Monday, September 21, 2015

An Intimate Painter

In his last weeks, while George slept, I watched for hours as he painted in the air….

Several months ago I posted a painting to George’s facebook page along with the words, “For Rodrigue, the Blue Dog, as it exists on his canvas, never referenced a real dog.”  The backlash was immediate, as people defended Tiffany, whose photograph inspired the dog’s shape.

Yet what I was trying to share is what I have in my head, as explained to me by George, about how he genuinely feels when he picks up his brush.  Yes, some of the books and painting titles focus on the loup-garou and Tiffany; and it is true that those elements are genuine origins of the Blue Dog Series.  However, while at his easel George was not thinking about his dog or, similarly, within his landscapes, an oak tree.  Rather, he was thinking about the elements, process, and tactility of painting. 

(pictured, George Rodrigue at his easel, June 2013; click photo to enlarge-)

He repeated countless times, as he moved his brush with that specific and personal Rodrigue stroke,

“I love the act of applying paint to the canvas.”

No matter what he shared with others through books and speech, it was clear to me that George wanted me to understand that what he really loved, above all else, was painting.  Indeed, it was okay for others to focus on a Cajun myth or on Tiffany or on any number of interpretations:

“What others see in the painting is correct also,” George would say, “because it’s correct for them.”*

And, most poignant today, he often remarked about his own work and that of others:

Great paintings take on a life of their own, beyond the artist’s intention --- and especially after the artist is gone.”

That’s why the Blue Dog remains mysterious, and that’s also why he painted it countless times without becoming bored.  George remained interested not because the works are an obsession with his long-deceased pet.  Rather, his art reflects his obsession with using paint to create something interesting to his eye, as well as something so mysterious that it defies, ultimately, any sort of universal or static interpretation.

It was George’s nature to joke with others --- not only because he enjoyed seeing people laugh, and laughing with them, but also because he felt confident that his work holds its own.  Outside of our relationship, he found the process of explaining his work exhausting, because most people, he felt, would not understand the intimate nature of his artistic expression.

Instead, he joked publicly for years... 

“I fed Tiffany Gravy Train every day; and now she’s feeding me!”

At his easel, however, he wasn’t laughing.   His focus on shape, design, and color was intense, as was his dedication to establishing a connection between the eyes of the dog-shape and the eyes of the viewer.  He used these elements to convey a meaning beyond the obvious, so that the puzzle never solves itself.  Whether Landscapes, Cajuns, Hurricanes, Bodies, or Blue Dogs, despite books, lectures, and blog posts, the ambiguity…or mystery… remains.

-be sure and click the photo to enlarge-

So here I sit, muddled, knowing and sharing some of what George intended, while knowing that even he believed that his intentions, in the long run, don’t really matter.


*"The image, it is clear, must be set between the mind or senses of the artist himself and the mind or senses of others." -James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), p. 247.

-for related posts, see “Lucky Dog” and "The Lone Artist"-

-pictured throughout this post:  Greenfields (2013, 42x66 inches). George intended this late painting, now on view in his Carmel, California gallery, to be a strong abstraction of his landscapes and Cajun genre works, and the closest he’d come so far to perfecting his abstracted style.  In addition, he juxtaposed the canvas’s strength of simplicity and modernism with the East Indian frame’s complexity and historical/cultural narrative. Years earlier (most famously, with his Aioli Dinner of 1971), he coined the phrase and applied the technique of “painting to the frame." Story here-  

-on Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015 the University of Louisiana at Lafayette presents “Rodrigue:  Painting to the Frame,” a Flora Levy Lecture delivered by William Andrews, Director of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.  Angelle Hall, 7:00 p.m. Free.  Learn more here-

-the “Aioli Dinner Supper Club” continues this fall with unique evenings benefitting the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, inspired by Rodrigue’s painting, Aioli Dinner (1971).  Learn more here-

-see the links under “Rodrigue News” to the right of this post for a listing of Fall 2015 museum and gallery exhibitions featuring the art of George Rodrigue-

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

For New Orleans

Ten years ago this week George and I were in Houston, Texas with most of our staff for an exhibition of his work.  None of us knew what was coming and that it would be many months before we returned home to New Orleans.  
In memory of those times, I share with you below a story I wrote in 2011 for the New Orleans weekly paper, Gambit, and integrated later within the book, The Other Side of the Painting (UL Press, 2013).  Honoring, today and always, a wonderful and unique city-
*Photographs by Tony Bernard and Don Sanders, September 21, 2005; click to enlarge-
For New Orleans
From the back porch of our Faubourg Marigny home, I see the west bank of the Mississippi River through the branches of our enormous tree, a live oak that Mr. Foche probably nurtured himself when he built this house in 1835.
God only knows what the tree has endured. Nicholas Foche, a free man of color from Jamaica, arrived long before the levees. That means that the Mississippi River rushed periodically through the ground floor, from the back door to the front. The water settled at times, I know it did. It delivered alligators, snakes, and lots and LOTS of rats, and it bred millions of mosquitoes, spreading fever, disease and death throughout this, a great American city.
As a series, I don’t think the HBO production Tremé (based on a neighborhood only a few blocks from ours) is fabulous, but on the other hand, the fact that I find it difficult to watch may be a testament to its insight. I recall the pilot as a misrepresentation, even a joke, on behalf of the Tremé writers to suggest restaurants and groceries and water bills and newly painted houses and dumpsters and taxis (and Elvis Costello and a limousine!) and Zapp’s potato chips and safe neighborhoods, and people who feel like singing — all just three months after the storm.
And yet right this second, six years to the day after George Rodrigue and I (the oh-so-fortunate) sat in a hotel room in Houston and watched on television as our city drowned, I sit on our 175-year-old porch and watch the tops of the ships go by. I see tourists wave to the shore of the river that made Louisiana the key state in Napoleon’s sale of 828,000 square miles of this country, and I watch our oak tree, now held together by steel wires and sprouting strong, near floating, swaying, and shaking its branches to the beat of New Orleans. Three months after or six years after — I guess it doesn’t much matter.

We were the lucky ones. Out of our house for only nine months. No flooding. But much of the old asbestos roof blew off, leaving our house wet, moldy, uninhabitable, and yet nothing to complain about. I’m ashamed, but nevertheless admit, that as we stayed with our former neighbors in Lafayette, George and I worried about our tree:
“What should we do? How can we save it?”
We couldn’t ask for help. It’s a tree!
Through the kindness of a police officer we were allowed into New Orleans three days before Hurricane Rita struck. We saw an abandoned city, a twilight zone, not a car, not a person, not a bird, not a sound, nothing. We walked through an empty and immaculate Jackson Square, perhaps the only place in New Orleans devoid of debris, the backdrop of our president's televised speech.
We found our back door wide open and our house remarkably, shockingly, without vandalism. In the 100-degree heat we climbed up and down the Creole townhouse's three flights removing paintings.
You see, we did not evacuate, but rather, by happenstance, were in Houston for an exhibition. Evacuation differs from weekend travel. Weekend travel is cocktail dresses, bathing suits and make-up. Evacuation, however, is paintings and photo albums and whatever that last little thing is that one dreams of having on a deserted island.
These are the things we grabbed. Silent and rushing, we observed our tree from a distance. Its roots raised our courtyard in places three, five, and six feet high, so that we couldn’t get close. The oak was split but standing, with George’s life-size painted fiberglass cow (from the 1999 Chicago Cow Parade) caught upside down, high in its branches. Pained for our entire city, we stared silently at our tree and ignored the complaints of our (later replaced) insurance adjustor:
“I can’t work in these hot conditions! Where can I get a cold drink? Don't you have a better way to pack those paintings? That bathroom is filthy!”
We have pictures of all of this, but I hate looking at them and share only the few in this essay.

Tremé misses a lot. But I think that’s okay. The show actually idealizes us in some important ways, too painful, too heady, and too political to detail here. However, I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t fall on their knees to see a Mardi Gras Indian dressed and singing with conviction even now in their street.
And yet our oak, twice each year since Katrina, holds parrots, a whole hierarchy of them, from the top of the tree to the bottom, the macaws to the finches, a migrating flock of freed animals, perhaps the meaningful equivalent of a costumed tradition.
I realize that Tremé is a TV show; it’s reality-based fiction, not a documentary. It’s okay with me that the story is skewed. And it must rouse feelings for everyone here in New Orleans who watches it. Somehow Tremé makes us look wonderful and like a third world country, both at the same time. Heck, just three months after Katrina we’re downright beguiling! But then, maybe we always were.
I remember the first time I laughed after the storm: My friend Geri described the $200,000 worth of rodent damage to her house as "squirrels gone wild."
I remember the first time I sang: It was Lundi Gras 2006 (the day before Fat Tuesday), and the Chee Weez lead thousands of us, strangers from the entire Gulf Coast, people from Biloxi, Pass Christian, Slidell, almost all living in FEMA trailers, gathered together at Spanish Plaza and singing a capella as though we'd practiced it for months,
"Jeremiah was a bullfrog, Was a good friend of mine..."*
Treasure New Orleans. Go to Vaughn’s and hear Kermit Ruffins. Eat a po’ boy. Visit the New Orleans Museum of Art. Dance at Mulate’s.  Ride an airboat through the swamp.  Drink a hurricane. Take a cemetery tour. Admire the oaks. And if nothing else, walk on a levee.

*"Joy to the World" by Hoyt Axton

Note: Prints from George Rodrigue's painting We Will Rise Again raised $700,000 for local humanitarian relief following Hurricane Katrina.  See the original painting, on view through October 4th 2015 at Rodrigue Studio, New Orleans.  Full story linked here-

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Magic People

“I never thought before that I was interesting, but after talking with you, I realize that I’m fascinating!” –Roz Cole

In September 2013 I spent several weeks in a New York City hospital room with George Rodrigue’s longtime literary agent, Rosalind Cole.  Weak from his medication’s side effects, George couldn’t travel, and I remember well standing at sunrise on the curb of the tiny airport in Monterey, California, crying as he drove away. 

I didn’t want to leave him. 

George’s son André arrived later that day and remained throughout my absence.  Roz, on the other hand, was alone.  Intensely private and without any family, she trusted only us with her secret, telling no one in New York of her illness, a cancer that would take her life some six months later.  George and I both loved her; and although few others understood our actions, we knew that I had to go.

(pictured:  Rosalind Paige Cole, 1926-2014, with The Dog Who Lives at the Waldorf- )

As often happened with Roz, things were complicated.  She rejected modern treatments and medical teams, demanding instead the impossible:  “a cure” and “an old-fashioned doctor.”

The best I could do was listen and try, albeit with little success, to ease her distress in some way.  Usually this included distractions, whether a phone-call from "Georgie," a lengthy game of 22, or a walk down memory lane.

(pictured:  Roz and Georgie, New York City, 2010; click photo to enlarge-)

Because she insisted on privacy, Roz panicked if she caught me taking notes.  Yet the narrator in me revered her nostalgia.  I kept my notebook open on my knees beneath her hospital tray and scribbled without seeing the pages.  It’s a betrayal for which I have no regrets.

Roz Cole represented dozens of celebrity authors over the years, including legendary actors Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, Irish poet and playwright Brendan Behan, and astrologer Sybil Leek, dubbed “Britain’s most famous witch” by the BBC.

I’ll trickle out the stories and notes one way or another over time.  But today I share with you below, exactly as Roz shared with me, a snippet recalling perhaps her most famous client and their legendary art world publication.

(pictured:  a ‘selfie’ by George Rodrigue, with a photograph of Andy Warhol with his camera by Annie Leibovitz, New Orleans, 2011; click photo to enlarge-)

I first met Andy at a dinner party. He was on one side of me, with Bob Colacello on the other.  We started talking and I said, “You should do a book called The Philosophy of Andy Warhol.”  I gave him the title right there.

He leaned across me and said, “Bob, she wants me to do a book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol.  What do you think?”

He said, “Good idea.”

The next day I called Harcourt Brace and told them about the book and that Bob would write it.  The editor said, “I love it, I’ll buy it, we’re ready to do it, we’re on.”

I called Andy, and he said Great! I called Bob and he said Great!  And from then on Andy called me “A Magic Person.”

I wasn’t just talk, he said.  I made things happen.

That was the beginning; and we did a lot of books together.

He gave a birthday party for me at Pearl’s (Chinese restaurant on 48th).  He gave me a beautiful shawl from Halston.  Andy and I got along really well.

Patrick O’Higgins* was also Andy’s friend, and he had fifteen cat drawings (from Sam).  And when Patrick died, he left them to me.  But they weren’t signed.  I told Andy and he told me to bring them to The Factory, and so I did.

Andy removed them from the frames and signed them. 

“Did you hang them?” I asked.

No! They’ve been stacked on the floor in my apartment ever since.  On the wall I have a Blue Dog in a King’s robe.  It’s above my bed.  I love it.

How the hell are we going to get out of here, Wendy?

Rest in Peace, Roz.


*Patrick O'Higgins, author of the hugely entertaining Madame:  An Intimate Biography of Helena Rubenstein (1971, The Viking Press) was also one of Roz's authors-

-pictured above:  Mardi Gras ’96, an original silkscreen by George Rodrigue; learn more here-

-George and I produced ten books with Roz Cole between 1994 and 2012, working with publishers including Viking Penguin, Harry N. Abrams, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Sterling, and Rizzoli; see the collection here-

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Boundless: Saved by Art

Early last year I retreated for three months to a tiny cottage in Seaside, Florida.  I was raised on nearby Okaloosa Island, and as I searched for 'home' ....alone... this community provided physical safety and comforting memories, especially during the quiet off-season between Christmas and spring break.  

Around 1980 I watched, with my mother and sister, this pastel Gulf front town arise from the white sand.

My temporary residence, a two-room carriage house behind a family's large second home, hinted of my grad school years, when I lived in a similar space behind an historic home in New Orleans' Irish Channel.  Yet even as the space seemed right; everything else was wrong ----not the least of which was the art.

The sand was too white; the water too blue; the sunshine too bright; the grocery store too domestic; the restaurants too romantic; the neighbors too happy.  Just two blocks from the too-beautiful beach, I remained exclusively indoors with my situation, my self pity, and my grief.

My sister helped me.  We emptied the walls of their vacation-home kitsch --- paintings of Seaside maps, palm trees, oversize coffee cups, and floral bouquets.

We replaced them with what became my "traveling art collection" (joined soon after by the "traveling crystal"), the space transformed by George Rodrigue, Hunt Slonem, and Mallory Page.

Weeks later, as I sat at the top of the stairs without any conceivable reason to descend, I realized that, by coincidence, Today I am Fuchsia, and I snapped a photo ---my first since my world slammed shut, tight.  Heretofore trapped within my screaming emotions in a tiny house, I began to open.  It was through these canvas worlds, as opposed to the real world, that my boundaries (and my fear) loosened.

(pictured:  February 2014, Somewhere in Seaside, Florida with Today I am Fuchsia, 2013 by Mallory Page, Mixed Media on Canvas)

Soon after, Page, who worked feverishly after having married in a fever, announced a new book of her artwork.  "Would you write the Foreword?" she asked.

I was honored, not only as a longtime fan of Page's work, but also because she became family when she married my stepson, Jacques Rodrigue.  She writes tenderly and admiringly of George within The Alchemy Never Starts or Never Stops, her award-winning monograph* published this spring:

"...he was a gentle and nurturing mentor, an artist himself, and was always generous with his pieces of precious wisdom."

Boundless:  The Art of Mallory Page
An essay by Wendy Rodrigue

An effective painting requires mystery.  

Recently, I overheard a group of gallery visitors searching for meaning within Mallory Page’s paintings.

“I see a window,” said one.

“I see a light in the window,” said another.

Page’s work, like all profound artistic statements, suffers this human preoccupation with imagery.  In her case, the obvious also complicates matters, as it’s hard to ignore the beauty of these works, often prompting mundane observations such as,

“Nice colors.”

 Furthermore, she inspires in viewers the need to analyze:

“Reminds me of Frankenthaler,” noted an art student.

“Agnes Martin,” added another.

The comparisons in particular peak my interest because Page accedes these influences.  Yet if we close our eyes and erase the connections to Abstract Expressionism’s legendary figures, no matter how flattering they are to Page or any artist, we might open our eyes and look, perhaps even see Page’s paintings anew.

All abstraction is not alike.  By its nature, if sincere, it reveals the artist.  If effective, it simultaneously mirrors the viewer.  In other words, the meaning vacillates, depending as much on the person standing before it as it does on the person holding the brush.

The great thing about Page is that all of it --- the search for imagery, the power of the obvious or literal, and the link to her predecessors --- is valid. 

Regrettably, at times this reduces meaning to meaninglessness, and artistic messages to the esoteric.  Yet surrounded recently at a museum by the figures, flowers, and still lifes of Matisse, Monet, and Cezanne, I overheard repeatedly, shouted by headphone-affected voices, “I love the colors!” and similar nonesuch, proving that it takes less than abstraction to blind us and more than the recognizable to transport us.

Mallory Page’s paintings, like all great Abstract Expressionist works, challenge finite descriptions.  In Page’s case, they are unique expressions of a single soul revealed, exposed, turned inside out.  The imagery, the “light in a window,” is no more real in Page’s paintings than the rabbit formed for a few seconds by the clouds in the sky.  Yet the vulnerability within her statements is raw and brave, creating something that, even if it does complement one’s decor, emotes the depth of her person and, just maybe, poses questions of the viewer, forcing us to look inward.

Most of us are slaves to meaning.  I recall years ago reading a book, found among a university library’s stacks, about Mark Rothko’s paintings for the de Menil Collection in Houston.  Despite Rothko’s insistence to the contrary, the author argued that the paintings, now installed at the Rothko Chapel, are the Stations of the Cross.  The author went further, breaking down the subtle brushstrokes and applied paint into the actual imagery of Christ carrying the cross. 

Even then, new to the academics of art, I wondered at this forced attachment, all the while pondering myself the meaning of these black paintings. 

Abstract Expressionism, however, exists as a pure assertion of the verbally inexpressible, a stripped rendering of color, shape (or lack of shape), and composition that, upon analysis, remains enigmatic and something other than those parts.

Mallory Page is a master of the mysterious and the now, drawing us into her works, utilizing a language that transcends time, gender, and place.  Yes, the colors are beautiful, and Page is for many decorators a dream.  Yet through her unique application, she exposes her soul in an intimate painterly act that reveals, in these atmospheric works, the universal.

If we allow Page’s paintings to exist on their own, further beyond our objectifications and comparisons, then we experience them fully, risking, blissfully, our ability to discuss them.  With the loss of the verbal comes the mystical and the boundless.  It is this heightened awareness that supersedes “nice colors” and sends us, helplessly, into the quiet, conscious expanse.


*Mallory Page's monograph, The Alchemy Never Starts or Never Stops received a Runner's Up Award for Best Art Book at the 2015 New York Book Festival; learn more about this beautiful publication here-

-Visit mallorypage.com to learn of exhibitions, book signings and available paintings-

-All artwork in this post by Mallory Page, as listed below, mixed media on canvas:
     The Alchemy Never Starts or Never Stops, from "Broken Snow Globe," 2013, 72x96 inches
     Melting with the Moonlit Sky, 2014, 87x96 inches
     Venus at Rest Somewhere Beyond Understanding, from "Married in a Fever," 2014, 60x84 inches
     Truth or Consequences, from "Forces of Change and Challenge," 2014, 87x96 inches
     Maudeville, 2015, a series of works on paper, 22.5x30 inches

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