Saturday, May 29, 2010

Blue Dog Speaks

With his Cajun works, George Rodrigue’s titles describe a scene in its simplest terms. The paintings themselves hold narratives, and their titles merely state the obvious.

Louisiana Hayride (1972)

Looking for Summer Shade (1973)

The Aioli Dinner (1971, for a complete history of this, Rodrigue’s most famous Cajun painting, visit here)

However, the Blue Dog is engulfed in mystery. From the time the loup-garou began its morph into the Blue Dog, George used his imaginary subject to make statements about real life.

The titles quickly became an important part of the intrigue, not only shedding light on George’s intent in the work, but also forcing us to look at the art in a different way. The Blue Dog, this staring, questioning presence, guarantees the mystery regardless of the title, asking “Why am I here?,’’ “Where did I come from?,” “Where am I going?,” the universal questions that keep life itself mysterious and interesting.

George enjoys the titles almost as much as the paintings, and he chooses the words himself, rejecting any outside input.

There are hundreds of cleverly titled Blue Dog paintings. Rather than fill this post with past examples, I direct you to the posts Rabbits and Chickens; Flowers (Eyes, Swirls, and Hearts); Red Dog; and any of the posts listed under BLUE DOG to the right of this text.

In this post, I thought it might be fun to share new paintings, Blue Dog works from the past year, none of which are published yet in books.

All images are one-of-a-kind, acrylic on canvas.

I Fell Into a Burning Ring of Fire (2010, 48x36, finished just this week, and an obvious reference not only to the electric red and orange behind the dog, but also to Johnny Cash, who happened to be singing June Carter’s song over the radio as George applied the last stroke).

What a Picture! (2010, 24x18, I walked in on George in the studio and overheard him say to himself, “Man, now that’s a painting-“)

The Blue Room (2009, 36x28, a tribute to the famous and recently restored New Orleans supper club at the Roosevelt Hotel)

My Tea is Ready (2010, 20x16, George was disappointed that no one, including me, picked up on this play-on-words: “My Tea is….” refers to “Matisse…” and a tribute to the French master.

I’ve Had Some Ol’ Flames (2010, 20x24, enough said…)

I Live Between Problems (2010, 20x24, pokes fun at the constant permit problems plaguing the new gallery)

And many paintings make reference to George's fascination with the cosmos, the mystery of the universe, such as Voodoo Sky Ride and Her Love Sent Me to Mars, both from 2010.

Some of the silkscreen titles also hold personal references. For example,

Sand Dollar Beach (2009) refers to a park in Moss Landing, California, where George and I collected sand dollars on our first date.

Are You Lonesome Tonight? and The Magnificent Seven (both 2009) suggest George’s love of music and movie references, particularly with regards to Elvis and Country Western. The Magnificent Seven also features our newest/oldest piece of furniture, a sofa George purchased with this print in mind, discovered one Sunday afternoon in our favorite Bywater junk shop.

Dolores Pepper and Flower Anne (2009) recalls the aliases my cousin Kelly and I used during one wild college summer in New Orleans (I was Dolores Pepper).

And Mignon’s Flowers (2008) is a tribute so special that it deserves its own post.

An artist friend once told me that she couldn’t understand why any artist would title their work:

“It changes the meaning,” she said. “It makes people see something different, something that if it’s that important should be inherent in the visual work.”

On the flip side, perhaps she worried that a title destroys the mystery, that very quality of a piece that makes someone ponder it forever, sort of like if Da Vinci had titled his masterpiece, Mona Lisa Gets a Puppy, thereby explaining her smile.

I’ve thought about this for years, and I’ve watched my friend’s expanding portfolio of untitled works, sometimes asking her questions with hopes of better understanding the art, sometimes letting the image speak for itself, and most often satisfied to remain confused and curious.

In the end, I believe that it’s all in the artist’s intent. Sure a title might explain away a mystery, but it’s just as likely to inspire one. In the early Blue Dog days, George’s titles were nearly always funny, and I remember people laughing their way through the gallery. Today, although the fun remains in some cases, more often George’s titles reveal something a bit more profound, sometimes accidentally funny, and something reflective of his life more than a specific explanation or meaning. In other words, the title is an added element, like a shape or a color.

An artist’s intent is interesting, no question; however, in the end it is secondary to the viewer’s response. What you the viewer see in the work is far more important than George’s reasons for creating it. The art outlasts the artist, and it is the changing perceptions, the conflicting interpretations, and the mystery of “Why?” that empowers a painting indefinitely.

Wendy

(pictured above: I Live in Two Worlds, 2010 24x18, acrylic on canvas board)

For a collection of more than three hundred Blue Dog paintings and a focus on their titles, see the book Blue Dog Speaks (2008, Sterling Press, New York), available at your favorite bookstore or on-line seller.

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