Friday, June 25, 2010

The Blue Cat

It may surprise you to know that we do not have a dog. In fact, George Rodrigue has not had a dog since Tiffany, an unwitting participant in the Blue Dog Series, died in 1980.

He's had several dogs over his lifetime, beginning with Lady and Trixie in 1950s New Iberia. However, it’s never been a priority for George to own a pet. He travels often, and he understands the responsibility that goes with such an undertaking.

Although I wouldn’t really call him a ‘dog person,’ it wasn’t until I came along that he even glanced at a cat:

“I hate cats,” he told me when he met my Romeo and Miss Kitty in Carmel, California in the early 1990s.



And indeed, when we married and moved to Lafayette, Louisiana in 1997, my two kitties went on to live with my friend Sandra (who works today at the Rodrigue Gallery, New Orleans), a mother to cats everywhere, as though a giant catnip toy hangs from her roof, along with a blinking sign:

“Abandoned Cats Welcome Here!”

It was September that same year, as George and I made our nightly power walk around our circle in Bendel Gardens, that a kitten, barely weaned, came out of nowhere and tried to keep up.

“Mew” she said.

I turned around, resulting in a minor newlywed spat:

“Keep on walking, Wendy. Don’t look at the cat!”

But she followed us, falling behind and then running to catch our heels, even as George grumbled and threatened me with his glances. When we reached our long driveway and slowed our pace, she slowed hers as well, and when we opened the kitchen door, she ran between our legs and into the house.

Why this was my fault, I’ll never know, but over the following week, after dozens of fliers and knocking on doors, I learned a great deal about how to keep the peace in my marriage and still get my way. We called her Diana, after the Princess who had lost her life two weeks before.

Over the years, George grew attached to Diana, although he denied it every chance he got. I knew I had him when late one night after she didn’t come home, he leaped out of bed and into the back yard in his underwear at the sound of cat screams and fought off an excited tom with the garden hose.

(pictured, George Rodrigue in 2010 with Bayou Blue Cat from 1994)



Diana’s been gone for a few years now; however, even today, when people ask him about her, George says,

“She was different. Not a cat at all, really.”

He never did paint her, nor did I ask him. I learned long ago the fruitlessness of approaching George with an art request. As his family, I should know better than to invade that personal space, that creative mind that lives to approach his canvas with freedom and nothing between his own thoughts and his paint.

But I overhear others ask him,

“Why don’t you paint cats?”

He’s answered the question many times over the years, so I have a pretty good understanding. Basically, it’s a problem with shape. Remember, even if you go all the way back to George’s oak trees, he focused on shape and design above all else. He’s admired today as a landscape artist and yet it’s ironic, because his oaks bear little resemblance to the actual trunks and branches of south Louisiana. He created a design and shape utterly his own, just as he did with Jolie Blonde, the Hurricanes, and the Blue Dog.

A cat, George says, no matter how you stylize it or exaggerate it, is not an interesting shape:

“The head is too small!”

This doesn’t mean that he hasn’t experimented over the years. To date, there are exactly six paintings, two silkscreens, and one poster of cats by George Rodrigue, and they are all featured in this blog post. They range in date between 1993 and 2010, so it should be obvious that he felt no big rush to paint a cat. 

(pictured, My Friend Felix, 1993, acrylic on canvas, 24x36)



In 1997 George painted a cat with the Blue Dog for a poster called Friendship, benefiting the Broward County Humane Society. (Even though this cat looks nothing like her, I like to think that Diana played a role in this one-)



And just this year he painted Cat Tie, an original painting that raised $180,000 for Friends For Life, the first no-kill animal shelter in the city of Houston, Texas.


George’s friend, collector, and cat-lover Don Sanders waits in the wings, with hopes that any day now George will make the Blue Dog-to-Cat shift, but I think he knows deep down that he’ll be waiting forever. In the meantime Don, George says, makes the cat paintings look good, like this installation in his Houston office, featuring Cool Cat from 1998, along with George’s Blue Lady from 2005 and a Blue Dog Pilgrim Glass vase of 1995.




George painted Dream World this year, a large painting of 30x40 inches, and based his silkscreen The Three Amigos on the image to jumpstart his programs for arts integration in education, The George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.


In 2007 he painted Friendly Cats, a painting inspired by his latest children’s book, Are You Blue Dog’s Friend? (published in 2009 by Harry N. Abrams, New York).


Perhaps his most popular cat image is the silkscreen Mardi Gras Cats (from 1997, the year of Diana). However, while the cats embody Carnival with their colors, it’s the Blue Dog that gives strength to the design.


So will George paint another cat? Oh, probably. But in all likelihood it will remain a secondary design element, something naturally juxtaposed to the Blue Dog.

Although….

Just last week George’s son Jacques, who lives in the house behind ours in New Orleans, opened his door to find a five-week old, one-eyed kitten curled on his stoop. He took her in and called her ‘Schnickahs’ (something about Jersey Shore) and she hung out with us around the pool on Father’s Day.


As expected, George made a big production while he ignored the cat, complained about his allergies, and suggested we dunk her in the pool for fear of fleas. But I saw the real George when he thought no one was looking. He picked her up ever so gently and whispered in her ear:

“Don’t worry, One-Eyed Jackie, we’ll get you a patch-“

Wendy

For more on Diana, read about the Hurricane Paintings-

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


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30 comments:

  1. I've got 4 kittens under the house! Shall I bring some over??

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  2. Hi, Wendy. I love your blog and the stories about George's art. One teensy thing in this post, though:
    "And just this year he painted Cat Tie, an original painting that raised $180,000 for Friends For Life, the only no-kill animal shelter in the state of Texas."
    There are actually MANY no-kill animal shelters in Texas: Operation Kindness, Straydog, CatMatchers, Dog N Kitty City, Treasured Friends, Utopia (run by Kinky Friedman) and many more. Texas isn't always animal-friendly, true, but many of us here are working on that!

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  3. Hi Meowlady

    Please accept my apology. I was repeating what I was told without confirming. Thank you for setting the record straight! And thank you for reading---

    Wendy

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  4. Love the blog and the fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the process. As a dog AND a cat person, will look forward to more friendship endeavors : )

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  5. Wendy, there was a New Orleans artist in the mid-90's painting a Red Cat. His gallery struck me as a "copy cat" of the Blue Dog.

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  6. Thank you so much for posting these blogs. They provide an excellent historical account of his success. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them. I have a signed/numbered print of the fair in Baton Rouge...1983...pre-Blue Dog...or perhaps he chose to not attend the fair... I look forward to reading many future blogs.

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  7. Wendy,

    I am always waiting for the next story...so enjoying each post..I had an aunt and uncle that lived in Bendal Gardens...Jerry and Mary Ard, just wondered if you might have known them...They are both gone now but lived in Lafayette as long as I can remember...keep up the good work...Thank you.

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  8. Such a charming post! I'm surprised that you and George don't have a dog. I've seen the "Friendship" painting before, but none of the other cat paintings. Very interesting. Good tidings to your son in law's new kitty! I have a tri-colored Chihuahua who looks a lot like Blue Dog. Thanks for blogging!

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  9. Thank you everyone for these wonderful comments!

    Hi TAN --- Yes, I do remember that, but I haven't seen him around in years-

    And JCrawford -- I'm sorry to say that I did not know the Ards. I asked our former neighbors, who have lived in Bendel for many years, and he recalls your uncle and that they met through the Rotary Club in Lafayette.

    Many thanks to everyone for reading and for the messages. George and I hit the highway in our truck today for our long drive out west. We're taking two weeks to get there, so I'll report from the road.

    With kindest regards to all ---
    Wendy

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  10. Wendy,

    From a "Cat Person" who loves all of George's work, this was a great post! Thanks for letting us see George's soft underbelly with the little kitten!

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  11. Wendy, I enjoyed your blog on your trip through TX--it certainly brought back memories. My husband and I have been traveling by motorhome since 1972, and in 1976 we did a month-long trip we called "circle the west"--LA, KS, SD, WY, MT, Canada, WA, OR, CA, NV, UT, CO, NM, TX. When we stopped in Fort Stockton it was 105 and there were two scorpions in the shower (got out quickly)! I was born in TX and we have been all over the state several times and still enjoy visiting there. Ask George if he remembers the late 60's--Kenny Bowen's ad agency, his art work on "Armand Brinkhaus Congress" and his visits to Sunset, LA. Please add my name to the Rodrigue Gallery's mailing list: Carmen Daigle, 1346 Chretien Point Rd, Sunset, LA 70584. Thanks.

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  12. Hi Carmen --- Thanks so much for writing in. I asked George, and he does remember. He said he thinks Bertha Bernard worked on that campaign. In an ironic twist, Bertha works for George today as his personal assistant, as she has for the past twenty years or so, since Kenny Bowen left the mayor's office.

    I added you to the mailing list. Thank you for reading. Maybe we'll pass you on the highway!
    Wendy

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  13. Wendy, she sure did work on it, and on all of Armand's campaigns that Kenny handled. I had lost track of her--please tell her hello for me! Maybe we will meet one day!
    Thanks, Carmen

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  14. Wendy - I didn't see this mentioned in your blog - but I have a cat painting by Rodrigue, which I got in 1998. The name of the painting is "My Cat in Carmel." It's a blue cat sitting on a red rug with a yellowish wall in the background. Is this one of the six you mentioned? Or is this another one that you didn't know about?

    Marianne, Falls Church, VA

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  15. Hi Marianne --- It may be one that I just forgot about. Regardless, we don't have a record of it. If it's not too much trouble, please email me a photo of both the front and back, along with dimensions to info@georgerodrigue.com and I'll do a little detective work! Many thanks - Wendy

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  16. I love the blue cat, especially since my own cat is completely gray (blue in cat colors). Years ago I got her portrait done and the artist painted her in blue dog blue, which is the perfect complement to the blue dogs already on my wall.

    Men always fall in love with cats who they claim "aren't cats at all." I hope your ginger kitty friend purrs a way into George's heart!

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  17. Thanks for writing in, Sue-- And you are so right about cats and MEN!

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  18. It is going to take me a long (enjoyable) time to look up & read all the sites listed on the right side of your page! Little by little I'll spend time doing just that. Enjoy your writing and George Rodrigue's painting and all his work! Admire educational work on both your parts.

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  19. Thank you, Carol! I'm glad you're enjoying the art and blogs!

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  20. Wendy, I've been a Rodrigue fan for several years now. We bought the silkscreen for Vagabond Moon and have treasured it every day. I'm Thinking a cat is in our future but I'm not sure they're for sale. How can we get one?

    Your great fans,

    Saylors Family

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  21. Hi Saylors Family- Thank you for your comments and your interest in the art of George Rodrigue. I'm familiar with Vagabond Moon - one of the classic Blue Dog silkscreens. As far as a cat, best thing to do is contact a gallery. You can either email info@georgerodrigue.com or call 504-581-4244. They'll have a far better idea than I of what's available. Thank you again! Best, Wendy

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  22. Your writing touched my heart, and I wanted to let you know. My cat, JC "Boo Boo" French made it to 17 1/2 years old, but moved on a couple of months ago. I was living in New Orleans in the 80's, and loved Blue Dog; at this time in my life it was comforting to see George's blue cat, and I thank you for that.

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    1. Many thanks Maureen for your kind comments. My condolences regarding JC "Boo Boo" French. More than 17 years- quite remarkable!

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    2. Thank you for your kind condolences, Wendy, thankfully we had many years together; and coming across your post was quite the blessing.

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  23. Wendy, We have had the "Friendship" poster hanging in our house since purchasing a framed copy at an animal shelter fundraiser in Kansas City over a decade ago! We love it! Blessings, Kris

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Kris! That poster was wonderful in so many ways. I'm happy to hear it's enjoyed in Kansas City- Wendy

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  24. Wow Love it,just love it.

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  25. What sticks in my mind is...you gave away two cats when you married him?! What kind of person would allow someone he professed to love to give away her beloved pets? In my estimation, someone who would allow his beloved to do that because HE didn't like cats isn't worth the sacrifice. People who love others don't do that. They understand that pets are not conveniences to be discarded when they get inconvenient. That was a red flag, and while I'm sorry for you being saddled with that kind of man, I'm sorrier for the cats who had the misfortune to choose a person who would give them away for no good reason.

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    1. Wow. That's a tough one to take, and from someone 'Anonymous,' but I'll post it anyway. I didn't want to give my cats away; nor did George make me. Both cats actually originated with Sandra, who had too many to care for early on, but found herself, sadly, having lost a few by this time. She offered to take them both back to a home they knew well, and where they often stayed while I was in Germany every year for three months at the Rodrigue Gallery.

      I meant the "Blue Cat" story to be an endearing one, and I mean for this blog, always, to be a pleasant place to visit. I apologize to this reader that clearly with her/him, I failed. If it's any consolation, the cats were very happy for many years, and I visited them often on returns to the Carmel gallery.

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    2. One more thing..... As for George hating cats; clearly that was just talk, as I tried to show through his fondness for Diana and Schnickas (who is a regular and welcome visitor at our house), as well as the money he raised for "Friends for Life No-kill Animal Shelter," to date now several hundred thousand dollars.

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