Saturday, July 31, 2010

Going With the Flow (the Family Flow, that is…)

I am not writing this from a ship on the Alaskan Inside Passage, nor from the fishing village of Ketchikan, nor perched on a glacier’s blue ice, nor anywhere near a family vacation three years in the planning. Of course, in this week’s unexpected theme of ‘looking on the bright side,’ I’m not writing from an airport or a hospital room either.

Rather, we’re in Carmel, California following a whirlwind one-day trip to Vancouver, where we met George’s son Jacques at the airport after luring him back from the ship, where he was already comfortable, enjoying the view from his stateroom, and awaiting our arrival.

Very late that night, as the three of us drove the two-hour stretch from San Francisco to the Monterey Peninsula, the reverse route of our drive early that same morning, George commented,

“You know, you have to write about this in the blog. Everyone’s expecting a family story from Alaska.”
“I know; I was just thinking about it. I have to figure out how to…”
“…not throw André under a bus?” offered Jacques.

Here’s a merciful explanation:

Due to unplanned life’s circumstances, André missed his flight in Lafayette, Louisiana, along with the next flight (the safeguard, in case something like this happened).

Due to further unplanned life’s circumstances, George and I did not find out until we were on the tarmac in San Francisco, plane door closed, headed to Canada. And Jacques did not find out the finality of the situation (the Jones Act, denying André boarding access at a later port) until after he’d flown from New Orleans to Vancouver and boarded the ship.

George called Jacques from the airport:

“You have three choices: fly to Carmel with us, return to New Orleans, or cruise to Alaska on your own.”

He then called André:

“We’re re-booking for next year (thanks to a forgiving and over-sold cruise line) and flying to Carmel. We scheduled a flight for you on Friday, so we can spend the week together.”
“Okay, cool,” replied André, who sat comfortably at home in Lafayette, seemingly oblivious to our afternoon in cramped airplane seats, our repeated journeys through security and customs, and the frantic efforts of our soon-to-be-sainted travel agent Susie.

Sound bad? In truth, it wasn’t. In the end, and even throughout, we laughed. Nearly everything that happened could have been averted had we known about each step even ten minutes earlier. We all knew that there was no point in going without André. This was a family vacation. Both André and Jacques are grown men with girlfriends and lives of their own. It had been years since we’d been able to coordinate something like this, and we knew that it probably wouldn’t happen again.

“We never get to see André,” I sighed, as we awaited our return flight to San Francisco.
“I was looking forward to the plane,” said Jacques, who was supposed to meet up with his brother in Dallas for the flight to Vancouver.

(above, the airport in Vancouver, along with the Elvis-cards photo, our only vacation pictures)

But no one, without question, was more disappointed than George Rodrigue. We took this same Alaskan trip seven years ago, and he’s been talking about sharing it with his sons ever since. More than anything, we wanted them to see the salmon, a fish born in fresh water, before heading to the ocean, swimming around for a few years and then errrrrtttttt, bee-lining it back to that same fresh water stream, where it fights rushing, raging water, hungry bears, its own decaying body, and millions of fellow fish to reach the very place where it was born. Then, if it’s in the lucky one percent, it lays its eggs or, in the case of the male, fights with another exhausted fish for the privilege of fertilization, and then dies. George and I spent a whole day watching these fish and contemplating life. Outside of a Grimm’s Fairytale, I’ve never seen anyone or anything fight so hard for its destiny.

Speaking of which...

We fell into bed sometime around two a.m. on Thursday night.

“I’m so sorry, George. I hope we did the right thing.”

He was quiet for a minute and then sighed,

“I would have been miserable on the boat.”

So now we’re all in Carmel. The weather is gorgeous. George spent all day in his studio yesterday, excited about his newest work, without mention of a missed cruise.

The boys’ long-time friend Matt, a safeguard and an added bonus, flew out with André. They arrived yesterday afternoon, and together we enjoyed a salmon dinner* in honor of Alaska, complete with herbs from our garden (another bright side, as my newly-planted garden would have suffered this week), locally grown heirloom tomatoes, a fabulous bottle of Monterey County wine, the newest James Taylor and Carole King recordings, and an enthusiastic toast:

“To André, without whom we would not be here.”

"I'll drink to that!" cheered Matt.

And to family—


*I swore to myself when I started this blog almost a year ago that I would never include recipes. But this salmon dish with assorted herbs and warm greens is incredible. The secret, of course, is fresh fish and home-grown herbs.

You'll find it in Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking, one of only two cookbooks out of which I've made every recipe (the other is Marcelle Bienvenu's Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make a Roux?, which saved my life during our first year of marriage.)

For more on André and Jacques, see the post "The Rodrigue Brothers."

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Blue Dog: Mixed Media

In many ways George Rodrigue is a big kid. Although he’s serious in both the application and concept of his art, he’s never denied that painting is fun. In fact, he’s famous for saying,
“If it’s not fun for me, then I don’t do it.”

He strives more for himself than for his audience to keep his work exciting and fresh, and it’s for this reason that his favorite way to paint is without preconceived ideas. He avoids planning and sketching unless absolutely necessary (as in the case of portraiture or complex works such as the designs for The Abstract Paintings or Bodies).

Almost from the beginning of the Blue Dog Series, George found a release from controlled designs in mixed medias. From his first silkscreens (Gallery Edition I and II from 1990, size 28x25, pictured embellished above), he chose certain printed designs as the basis for a free-style doodling of sorts, altering the image with original paint applied by his own hand. Occasionally he printed the silkscreen design on plywood before adding acrylic paint. (pictured, Red Moon on plywood with acrylic paint, from 1991, size 28x23)

Eventually George chose a specific silkscreen design, rather than random artist proofs, for these mixed medias. For many years he embellished silkscreens of a simple dog on a white background, ranging in size from 35x25 inches to a larger scale of 49x37. These oversized pieces are among his favorites, and he paints them in an unusual way.

The mild and dry climate in Carmel, California allows George to paint outside. Although he built a studio at our home in Carmel Valley in 2001, when painting mixed medias he prefers the garage, removing the cars and nailing the large-scale paper directly to the wall.

In his studio, George normally completes a painting on canvas from start to finish without beginning another. However in the garage with the mixed medias, he paints a dozen images at once --- playing, doodling, splashing his paint, enjoying his music and the fresh air, and relishing in the spontaneity that so often is unavailable to him in the studio.

Recently he expanded this to include works on chrome. While he may spend less than an hour applying the original paint to one piece, the initial set-up for these impressive works took George nearly a year. He had difficulty finding not only a printable chrome paper, but also one heavy enough to sustain possible dings, scratches, and other damages that might result from shipping, framing, and from his own handling of the work as he paints.

In the end, he discovered a heavy chrome board, still prone to fingerprints and scratches, but less likely to ding. After he paints, he covers each piece in plexiglas for protection.

In addition, he had trouble finding a paint that would adhere to the material. Most paints washed away, beaded, or simply declined to adhere. Finally he worked with not only thick acrylic paint, but also silkscreen ink. This gave him the added bonus of dripping and splashing the color ala Jackson Pollock, resulting in an even greater freedom and sense of play.**

Once he grasped the materials, George went to town, painting numerous mixed media works on chrome over the past three years. These include small heads (size 18x18) and full bodies (size 37x26) such as those pictured above. His favorites, however, are the large-scale works, size 80x56, created by combining four boards.

These huge pieces appeal to public institutions in particular, especially children’s hospitals, where the patients and visitors see their reflections alongside the Blue Dog. Because of the plexiglas, there is little danger of damage, and people are encouraged to touch the works and take photographs. In these venues, George hopes the young patients take away something positive from an otherwise traumatic experience, even if it’s just a memory of bright colors and a piece of art that reflects not only their own image, but also the joy with which it was created.
"…Life, viewed through the tint and hue of imagination, becomes something one can better tolerate and understand.”*
In the past year alone, these oversize chrome mixed medias were installed at Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin, Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Le Bonheur in Memphis, and most recently in both East Jefferson and West Jefferson Medical Centers in the New Orleans area.

The chrome material appeals to George not only because of its reflective quality, but also because of its 1950s decorative connotations, its natural reference to automobiles, and its similarity to the Blue Dog sculptures. Because of the chrome, his mixed medias take on a new, contemporary look, and what may have bordered on redundant (even for him) becomes fun again, made all the more so by the public’s attention to these works. As George says,
“It’s just a really cool material.”

For another type of free-form work, see the post "Hurricanes."

*R.J. Ellory, A Quiet Belief in Angels, 2009, The Overlook Press

**I’m reminded of Picasso’s famous quote: “It took me a whole lifetime to learn how to draw like a child again.” For more on Picasso and Rodrigue, see the post I First Loved Picasso (Again)”

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Painting with Uncle George

Originally I planned to spend this post talking about George Rodrigue’s childhood in New Iberia, the fact that he was an only child, along with his lack of art influences, as well as our devotion to arts education. But I’ve covered his childhood already in previous posts, as well as the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts. Maybe it’s time --- summertime, family time --- to talk about the children in our lives today.

As I’ve mentioned before, George and I do not have children of our own. However, he does have two grown sons, André and Jacques. We’re headed on an Alaskan vacation with them in the next few weeks, and I’ll write more about them at that time.

This does not mean, however, that we don’t have young children in our lives. William (age 9) and Wyatt (also called Bubba, age 7), our nephews, are an inseparable part of our holidays, our major decisions, and our future. This past week in Carmel, California, they were also a part of our daily lives.

It’s become a tradition on their visits to paint with Uncle George. We tried to get started this trip as they approached him at his easel:

“Does that pistol work?” William asked, as he looked around the studio.

“Why do you have so many raccoons?” asked Wyatt.

I steered them back.

“What do you think of Uncle George’s painting?”

“Real cool, I like it. Is he almost done?”

“Nope,” said George.

At last George set them up outside, as he’s done many times in both Carmel and New Orleans. He uses his supplies, stretched canvas or 100 pound deckeled-edge watercolor paper, along with acrylic paint and brushes straight from his bucket of water. They create with supplies the likes of which he never knew as a child, and they appreciate it. They don’t recognize their uncle as famous, but they do understand that he’s a great artist. They think every artist lives well and enjoys shows at major museums. Fortunately, they also understand that it takes hard work, talent, and, as we discussed in great detail this week, a lot of luck.

“Is that a Birdman?” I asked Bubba.

“No, it’s a Birdguy. William paints Birdman. They’re archenemies.”

“What are you painting?" I asked William.

“Something crazy.”

Uncle George suggested they paint the animals in the area, maybe the deer that drank from the fountain that morning or the rabbit that hopped across the road:

“Paint an elephant, a kangaroo, a rat!”

Bubba responded,

“I painted an elephant with watercolors before. I only had black paint, so I kept adding water until it turned out kind of grey.”

The great artist (the big kid) grabbed some paper and joined them.

“Uncle George,” said William, “that looks like a stubborn, young deer. What deer would have a small body and a huge head?”

“You gonna give him a red nose?” I asked.

“Hey Uncle George,” said Wyatt, “you could mix some orange in and make brown for that deer. And if you want color, you can paint the Christmas tree green. And William, your painting looks real good.”

They then advised Uncle George to put his painting in the gallery:

“Someone might want to buy it!” said William. “I’ll bet you could get fifty dollars!”

“I doubt it,” mumbled George.

“But Uncle George,” said Wyatt,” they might like the painting. I think it’s a really good painting, especially if you put some green on that tree.”

I responded:

“I think we might keep it.”

“Good idea, Aunt Wendy,” they said together.

We talked about dreams, about knowing what you want to be when you grow up. I told them about Uncle George, sick with polio at age nine, about the paint-by-number sets and modeling clay that cured his boredom and set his course for life, something they understood after William's long months in a body cast (detailed here, and pictured below). We talked about dedication from an early age, the kind of dedication that shapes a person in adulthood.

And then we talked about their dedication, about bicycle motor cross, the Olympics, the varieties of ants in our backyard, as well as the recent changes in personality in their pet frog, the speed of Uncle George’s four-wheeler, and the number of sea dragons at the Monterey Aquarium.

I asked William,

“What are you going to be when you grow up?”

“A motorcycle stuntman like Evel Knievel, but more daring."

Right away, Bubba pleaded,

“Please don’t try a front flip, William. It’s a bad idea.”

William rolled his eyes, and they had a complicated and detailed discussion about the pros, cons (and possibilities) of a front flip, all while painting Birdguy and ‘something crazy.’

“And you, Wyatt?” I asked.

“I’m going to be a scientist," he replied.

"...or maybe I'll be William's mechanic," he continued. "But if he doesn’t pay me enough, I’ll quit.”


For more on William and Wyatt, visit my sister’s blog: Adventures of a BMX Mom

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Boudreaux in a Barrel

As any Louisiana joke teller knows, the two lead characters of most Cajun stories are Boudreaux and Marie. They might venture out fishing with a roll of duct tape or accidentally hit a skunk with their truck. Maybe Marie catches old man Boudreaux’s attention with her pot of gumbo, or perhaps Boudreaux waits until their wedding night to explain his knobby knees (knee-sles), gnarly toes (toe-lio), and other oddities.

The name Boudreaux, in other words, was a natural choice for Cajun artist George Rodrigue in reference to his classic painting, Boudreaux in a Barrel (1972), despite the fact that the original photograph (New Iberia, Louisiana, circa 1920) includes no such character.

(Ironically, it does include a ‘Marie,’ however; George’s mother, Marie Courregé Rodrigue, stands on the right; his father, George Sr., stands in the middle).

George first painted from photographs in the early 1970s, when he discovered his mother’s photo album. About this same period he wondered,

“What would a person look like who walked out from behind one of my oak trees?”

He transferred the images to slides and projected the shapes onto his canvas. In this way, he created a specific style all his own. In the case of Boudreaux in a Barrel, for example, he used graphite to trace the outline of the shape created by the four characters and barrel onto a 36x28 inch canvas. From there, he framed them with the lines of an oak tree, so that they are locked in and steady.

Unlike the photograph, the painting’s figures have no chance of falling. It’s as though George took the shape created by the original characters, cut it out with scissors, and pasted it onto a landscape, so that the hard edges of the tree hold the people together. There is nothing haphazard about the design. It is specific, so that moving even one element, one edge, one shape, destroys the composition.

The Cajuns, George says, are inseparable from their landscape. They are a transplanted people, first from France and then from Canada, and finally pasted onto south Louisiana, where they made a home for themselves in the swamps and prairies following the Grand Dérangement of 1755. (See the posts The Saga of the Acadians and Evangeline).

George committed early on to ‘graphically interpret the Cajun culture’ on his canvas. The paintings of the 1970s in particular are full of symbolism. Nothing is random. Even the tree, cut off at the top, creates a small sky and a light in the distance, referencing the hope of the Acadians to make a home for themselves in a new land. (For more, see the post Early Oak Trees).

In addition, the figures, all in white and lit up as though under a spotlight instead of a tree, break the rules of art. In George's painting, the Cajuns shine from the inside out, creating both timeless characters (is this 1800 or 1900?), as well as ones that glow with their culture.

So despite the fun in George’s title and the horseplay of its models, the dichotomy is clear. The painting is serious --- in its subject, its symbolism, its strong design, and especially in the deliberate, focused way in which it’s painted. As a result, Boudreaux in a Barrel is not only a classic Rodrigue, but also a defining piece of both Cajun and American art.


For details on another classic Cajun painting, see the post The Aioli Dinner.

For Marie's New Iberia school class of 1924, see the post The Class.

Coming this Saturday: "Painting with Uncle George"

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Label Art: Paintings for Wine and Beer

For many years George Rodrigue dreamed of painting the label for the famous Bordeaux wine, Chateau Mouton Rothschild. For a man who hasn’t had a drink in twenty years, this obsession might seem strange, unless one understands the tradition behind the label.

Since 1945’s “V” for “Victory” designed by Philippe Julian (above, author of The Collectors, oddly enough, which I quoted in another post) following the end of World War II, Baron Philippe de Rothschild and, since 1988, his daughter Philippine de Rothschild reserve their label for world-renowned modern and contemporary artists. The artist labels include original designs by Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso (1973, pictured below) and many more.

George has in his collection all but four of the bottles since 1945. The labels are perfect, and the bottles are full. It’s an excellent collection, and he looks at it often, studying the bottles and, I can see it in his eyes, wishing he were among them.

(pictured, George's son Jacques with the Mouton Rothschild collection; George's Cajuns, Indians and Cowboys and two oak trees hang on the wall.)

We’d been married about a year when I surprised him with a 1945 Mouton Rothschild, found with the help of a sommelier friend. The only thing that could be better, I thought, was to secure the label commission. My sister Heather joined me for a designated girls’ trip, and off we went to Bordeaux, France, despite the fact that I was unable to confirm an appointment to meet Mrs. Rothschild. We had books in hand, along with possible label designs, when we rang the bell:

“Is the Baroness at home? We’ve come a very long way.”

Despite our bad manners, her assistant met us and treated us with grace, explaining that her boss was out of town. She hosted us throughout the winery, including a tour of the Rothschild’s private cellars and an education in the fascinating history of both the family and their legacy. In the end, Heather and I left having tasted some fabulous wines, as well as having delivered our Rodrigue message and materials.

(pictured, Wendy and Heather in Paris, 2000, photographed by Tabitha Soren)

We returned home with three more bottles of Mouton Rothschild for George’s collection. About a week later we received a case of wine from the Baroness, a gift along with a kind note explaining that the next label had been chosen, but she appreciated our having dropped by. It was a classy, but obvious, rejection.

George took it all in stride and tried to convince us he wasn’t surprised or disappointed. But I knew better. He eventually moved the collection from its custom-made display case to a dark wine closet, mostly, I believe, so that people would stop asking him about it.

How ironic that just a few years ago, Amuse Bouche Wine, considered by many to be an American counterpart to Mouton Rothschild contacted George about the label for their 2006 vintage. Winemaker Heidi Barrett and her partner John Schwartz devote the labels of their high-end, small-production cabernet/merlot blend to American artists. For George, pairing his artwork to this fine wine and fine American tradition of artists including Wayne Thiebaud and Leroy Neiman, was the next best thing to the French label.

(pictured, with John Schwartz of Amuse Bouche Wine, with George's wine label created from the painting and lithograph Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?)

Indeed, after meeting the folks involved and tasting the wine, it was the better thing.

This interest in labels goes way back for George, even before he discovered Mouton Rothschild. Prior to the fine wine, it’s no shock that this Cajun focused on beer, specifically the micro-brews.

He developed a label for a special ‘bayou brew’ produced by Pearl Brewing Company in San Antonio, Texas, and called it Jolie Blonde Beer, featuring his famous painting. Together with his partner in this project, Kerry Boutte of Mulate’s Cajun Restaurant, they sold Jolie Blonde Beer in Louisiana, Texas, and California throughout the mid-late 1980s.

(George Rodrigue and Kerry Boutte pictured below upon the release of Jolie Blonde Beer in 1984)

Two years later George worked on several wine labels for a joint venture with Chef John Folse for his restaurant Lafitte’s Landing in Donaldsonville, Louisiana.

(pictured, Maison Lafitte, 1986 Chardonnay, Madonna Vintners, Morgan Hill, California, featuring Rodrigue’s Cajun Gourmet Society)

In 2009, a wine connection once again presented itself when Chef Emeril Lagasse asked George Rodrigue to create the artwork for not only the wine label for his Carnivale du Vin, but also for the event itself, a fifth anniversary celebration in Las Vegas featuring premium winemakers and chefs.

As with Amuse Bouche, this connection includes both a quality product and an established and well-respected tradition, along with the added bonus, in the case of the Carnivale du Vin, of helping to promote and raise funds for the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, including programs such as the Edible Schoolyard and Café Reconcile in New Orleans.

Earlier this week we reunited with some of these Carnivale du Vin folks for a gathering at Williams Selyem Winery in Sonoma, where we talked with excitement about the upcoming 2010 event in New Orleans this November.

As with so many things in life, because of experiences like Amuse Bouche and Carnivale du Vin, George’s goals shifted. Although he may never paint a label for Chateau Mouton Rothschild, he’s collaborated on similar projects here in America and is extremely proud of these associations and the resulting friendships. In truth, these days he rarely mentions the French wine at all.


Update, 12/8/10: George Rodrigue creates a wine label for Heidi Barrett's Pret a Boire, a high end, small production rose. For more information visit here.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Cypress Tree

---With thanks to our friend Neil, who found this painting (and recognized it).

Before Blue Dogs, Cajun folk life, and portraits, George Rodrigue painted hundreds of landscapes, a subject so important to his oeuvre that he continues to paint them today. (For a detailed history of Rodrigue's landscape paintings with both early and recent images, visit the post Early Oak Trees and a Regrettable Self-Portrait).

It was the Louisiana oak tree, specifically its strong shape against a small sky, which inspired George as early as 1969 and, just following his return from art school in Los Angeles, defined his style. But why not the cypress tree? After all, it is a beloved presence in south Louisiana, its trunk stretching high above the swamp, its knees poking above the grassy, thick water, and its branches dripping with moss. (My mom used to describe it as ‘gossamer icicles.')

Furthermore, for George personally the cypress tree would have made an interesting choice, because even today when we cross the Atchafalaya Basin, he laments,

“It was my ancestors, Wendy, the Cajuns, that destroyed the cypress trees. They cut ‘em all down.”

Yet as anyone knows who studies his paintings, whether Oak Trees, Cajuns, or Blue Dogs, George Rodrigue is all about shape. Just as he does with the cat, George claims,

“The cypress tree is not an interesting shape.”

He continues,

“There are no bowing branches and expanding trunks, and there is no sloping terrain or coulee. There’s just a straight stick on flat water or land.”

(pictured above, Untitled, 1969, 12x4 inches, oil on canvas, Rodrigue’s only acknowledged* painting of cypress trees)

George painted one canvas starring the cypress tree, completed just following some pivotal changes to both his art and career, due to the advice and assistance of several influential members of the Lafayette art community. Like his other paintings from this period, the canvas is dark, monochromatic, and painted to the frame.

It’s a painting he originally sold for fifty dollars and bought back just a few years ago at auction without any competition because, he says,

“No one ever would recognize it as mine.”

Today this small painting is important to George because to his mind it is not only a true one-of-a-kind, but also a part of his process and early development as an artist. I see this work as representing George Rodrigue on his artistic path**, indicated by the clearing in the trees, the river (a Cajun’s road) extending indefinitely, and the light in the distance.


Photograph by George Rodrigue, Jean Lafitte Park, Barataria Preserve

For a related post, see "Swamp Women"

*I reminded George that there are a few Blue Dog paintings that include cypress trees. He didn’t believe me! And when I showed him images, he requested I save them for another post, because “those trees are not the painting’s subject, and they don’t really count.”

**To me, the painting also acts as a visual interpretation of the advice George often quotes from art school. A professor explained that art is like a yardstick, with the Mona Lisa on one end and black paint on a black canvas on the other:

“You have to find your place somewhere along that stick and go up.”

Coming this Saturday: “Paintings for Wine Labels”

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Alligator Crossing

It’s ironic. In south Louisiana, where alligators actually do cross the road (or the levee or the yard or the bayou), there’s no warning. However, in Carmel Valley, California, where the possibility is, okay, impossible, you’re warned just in case.

I guess this makes sense if you consider the context. A Cajun lives in this house, and he won’t take any chances.

For years George Rodrigue has painted alligators, specifically the story of Tee Coon (the same Tee Coon who was the janitor at New Iberia’s Catholic High), who tried all of his life to catch the largest alligator in the bayou. Once he did, he found he’d lost his best friend. (I think there’s a similar fish story out there, but this is George’s version, so bear with me.)

I could fill this post with alligator paintings, but this week I’m more interested in the ‘crossing’ part of this warning sign. The alligators (most of them, anyway) will have to wait. You see, we just crossed America in our truck, 2200 miles from New Orleans to Carmel, from the bayou to the Pacific Coast. (pictured, The Crossroads of My Life, acrylic on canvas, 2007)

Alongside I-40 we watched what’s left of Route 66, the road George took from New Iberia to Los Angeles to reach art school in the 1960s. The narrow asphalt, once lined with diners and motels, hugs the terrain, a different experience from today’s wide, flat highways.

We told stories in our truck and, as we do every year, we got to know each other better.

(pictured, Route 66, an original silkscreen)

Occasionally we stopped to visit friends and crossed the road on foot, as recorded here by photographer Dana Waldon in Santa Fe. (Scott Wayne, George Rodrigue, and Doug Magnus Cross the Road (Abbey Road?), July 2010)

Scott Wayne Emmerich, an innovative boot maker from Los Angeles, also passing through Santa Fe in his truck (on his way to Cody, Wyoming to see a special girl) showed off his latest creation: one-of-a-kind alligator boots with eyes. (photographed by Dana Waldon)

George was tempted but passed on the boots, despite my pleading,

“But it’s so romantic! You’ll be like Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone!”

(Remember that last scene, when he puts his boot up on the edge of the boat, and Kathleen Turner, ditching her groceries on the New York street but holding her flowers, climbs the rope ladder and says in that throaty, fabulous voice,

“I like your boots.”

Ahem. And while we’re on ‘crossing,’ let’s not forget the proverbial chicken. Fortunately I’ve covered that well in another post: Rabbits and Chickens In (and Out) of Rodrigue Paintings. Whew. So here’s another alligator.

(pictured above, A Novena for the Oaks, 1993, acrylic on canvas)

We crossed from Louisiana to Texas to New Mexico to Arizona (with a northern detour into Utah) and finally into California, where we were met with wavy, grassy, dry but somehow beautiful hills, as though the golden, rolling landscape was a signpost for the miners:

“Gold Buried Here”

(In Louisiana, it’s just dead grass.)

(pictured above: My Gold Pet, 2006. For more on this type of post-Katrina painting see the post Blue Dog: The Dark Period 2006-7)

And then there’s the big crossing: crossing over. I committed to reading the Bible this summer, sections from the Old and New Testaments, Psalms, and Proverbs each day. (My husband and my sister are shaking, terrified: What will she say? How many will she offend?).

(pictured above: Crossing Over, acrylic on canvas, 2007)

I’m a month into it, so the Israelites are fleeing Egypt, crossing the Red Sea with the help of Moses and his staff (a long wooden stick, not his employees); Jesus is busy challenging the Roman religious leaders, so I’m assuming the Last Supper is around the corner.

The stories haven’t gotten me back to church, and so this dedication probably won’t get me into Heaven, but it has inspired some great discussions with George, a Catholic schoolboy (who left the church long before me but lives for diatribe on the history and doctrine of Christianity), especially as we crossed the dry desert country and talked about the need for forty days of rain.

Near Bakersfield, as we passed miles of farmland, George told me about the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930s, a travel-vignette probably spurred on as much by that day’s reading, the swarming locusts in Egypt (courtesy of Moses and that staff again…), as by the almonds and grapevines of southeastern California. That’s right, we read the Bible as we crossed into California, drained of days of conversation on the road and looking to God (or Leif Enger, as the case may be):

“Whenever I didn’t know what to write next, I put a swift river in front of his horse and sent the two of them across!” (Leif Enger, So Brave, Young, and Handsome, 2008, Atlantic Monthly Press)

(pictured above, Wendy in a Grotto)

So now we’re in Carmel. George is back at his easel (or posing for pictures); I’ve completed four blog posts on and about the road; and I’m well into the Bible. A bit of normalcy ---- you know, blogs with the history of the artist and his paintings ---- is around the corner.

Cross my heart.


Unless otherwise noted, such as the ones by Dana Waldon and the one of George ala Michael Douglas above (by me), all photographs by George Rodrigue

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