“But just imagine, my dear…! A whole periodical devoted to one person’s opinions! I would never have believed it possible!” (from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke)
It’s the wee hours, and I’m blogging again, unable to sleep, to quiet my mind, because I’m retracing the Reagan and Gorbachev paintings in one minute and recalling George’s mother’s unfiltered (“You got fat, huh?”) and charmingly foggy (“That Ed Sullivan looks good for his age!”) brain in the next.
It seems I’m addicted to sharing my ‘musings,’ a rather vain exercise no matter what the subject, and the yogi in me takes little comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one out there blogging.
I still feel a bit exposed, even vulnerable, as I share our photographs and memories with strangers. And yet I’m encouraged by the number of readers (two thousand of you this week alone!) and even more so by your comments. Thank you for reading, and thank you for writing in.
The interest in this blog surprises me. I thought everyone already knew all of this stuff! We’ve printed countless biography hand-outs over the years, listed detailed timelines on our website, lectured to audiences across the country, written ten books, and spoken to thousands of gallery visitors. Before starting this project four months ago, I actually worried that blogging about George Rodrigue would be redundant!
Yet somehow, even people who’ve followed his career for years did not know that George went to art school in Los Angeles, that he’s made a successful living as an artist for more than forty years (no overnight rags-to-riches story here), that his family was in the tomb business, that the Blue Dog is based on a Cajun legend, that the Aioli Dinner is not a family reunion, that (my sweet mother’s romantic mysticism aside) I am not Jolie Blonde, that George painted a series of seventy abstract paintings called Hurricanes (the reaction to which prompted this blog entry), that he painted the Hurricanes three years before Hurricane Katrina, and that it’s been nearly a decade since George lived in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Locals, particularly those from Lafayette, claim George as their own, a notion both endearing and annoying. I remember years ago working in Carmel with Sandra Crake (who is originally from Baton Rouge and still works in the Carmel gallery after nineteen years), arguing over who would deal with the next ‘Lafayette know-it-all’ that walked through the door. Without exception, these folks assumed that Sandra and I were uninformed and, worse, that we were from California! What could we possibly share with them about George Rodrigue that they didn’t already know? Had we even met him?
When I reminded George of this, he too admitted his disillusionment:
“I went to New Orleans to open a gallery, to show my art, and just to have a presence in a community as an artist, because in Lafayette, no one paid attention.”
Blogging, this on-line personal magazine, gets the word (and pictures) out in such a way that folks do pay attention. I’m not sure why this works, but I’m grateful for the readership, and (for now, anyway) I’m hooked. As a result, these days, rather than bristling my feathers, I’m increasingly appreciative of the Lafayette and New Iberia contingencies --- those folks who remember Bud Petro sitting on the Jefferson Street gallery porch (and barking, “You coming to look or to buy?”) or George jacking up his house fifteen feet in the air to build a second floor underneath. Maybe you actually met Tiffany! (pictured below, crossing the road in front of the Rodrigue family's raised home)
Perhaps you bought a painting from the trunk of George’s car, or recall the day Coach Blanco (or Brother Isidore, for that matter) threw him out of class for drawing. Maybe you rode across the country with George in the blue van and helped him put up a show in Boston or Houston or Jackson, Mississippi. Maybe you saved a bottle of Jolie Blonde Beer or found an old Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival poster in your attic.
Whatever the connection, your stories are as good as mine (and in some cases better). Thank you for sharing them. (pictured, Bud Petro, with Diane Bernard Keogh as Evangeline)
What surprises (and pleases) me the most about reactions to this blog is the people that previously associated George with one thing ---the Blue Dog--- but now understand that he is (and always has been) unpredictable in his art. He loves “wondrous varieties,”* and his canvas, from Landscapes to Cajuns to Blue Dogs to Portraits to Hurricanes to Bodies, to other series I haven’t touched on yet like Reflections and River Paintings and Pop Candy reflects his changing interests, even within those particular series (consider the difference between Blue Dog paintings from 1992 and Blue Dog paintings from 2002).
In fact, if there’s any pattern at all, it’s that from the beginning, from those early Pop Art years in Los Angeles, the things around George affect his art. He creates and changes based on associations, based on things happening right now in his life. He doesn’t retrace old ground.
Looking back at the stories in this blog, I think that sharing this variety and its inspirations has been its greatest accomplishment, and, although I’m aware of the dangers, this realization should keep me on track.
To finish Ms. Clarke’s quote (from the beginning of this entry) regarding ‘a whole periodical devoted to one’s opinions’:
“She will consider it the most natural thing in the world. Her vanity is beyond any thing.”*
*Azeem, the ‘painted man,’ (played by Morgan Freeman) explains the color of his skin to a young child: “Allah loves wondrous varieties.” (from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1991)
*I replaced the pronoun “he” with “she” from page 114 in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004.