We talk about bookstores probably more often than most. Usually our discussion involves book tour nostalgia, as well as a growing personal connection to certain stores and their staffs. Over the years a variety of publishers produced more than a dozen books on the art of George Rodrigue. The categories vary and include fine art books of his Cajun and Blue Dog paintings, children’s books, holiday-themed gift books, and even cookbooks.
In this day of Kindles, iPads and eBooks, however, the publishing world is changing (some say down the same dubious path as the music industry). Book signings no longer draw mobs; fewer newspapers review books; and that special place called a bookstore is transformed into a destination for ‘collectors.’
Books, it seems, are headed the same direction as the typewriter. (pictured, George Rodrigue with Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, 1999)
Shocked to find a new bookstore, the likes of which we’d never seen, we stumbled open-mouthed into Assouline, a New York City publisher of gift and fine art books.
If not the store, George and I both are familiar with the product. Their publications include boxed sets spotlighting fashion and other lofty interests, offered for a serious price through the catalogues of high-end department stores. In addition to these collections, they specialize in large-scale tomes featuring artists such as Magritte or the history of Penthouse Magazine or their latest project, a tribute to Barbie.
These heavy, beautiful paper objects run anywhere from $300 to $1500. They are limited in number and, when possible, include the appropriate signatures. The store, its presentation, and its titles are stunning and, for now anyway, impossible to reproduce on a laptop.
“This is where it’s all going,” commented George. “Books are pieces of art.”
Driving home the point, 16th century large-scale original paintings (portraits of royalty and nobility) take up any space not devoted to books, so that the bookstore ends up a cross between the slick of the contemporary and the idolized of the old world.
In George’s galleries we avoid selling books, preferring to focus on the paintings and silkscreens. However, it seems obvious that books aren’t just books anymore. Perhaps it’s time we take a second look at these titles, books that in most cases took years to produce and include beautiful reproductions of George’s paintings, many of which are unavailable in print form.
This holiday season we will issue, for the first time, several boxed collections of signed, out-of-print first editions.* ‘The Art of the Art Book,’ I guess one could say.
Unlike the constant publishing projects of the old days, today we tiptoe when it comes to new books. We still meet with publishers and toss around ideas, as though nothing has changed. However, we all see the Kindles throughout the airport. Even George couldn’t resist the i-Pad and wrote a children’s book application using his paintings (due out next spring).
These days he's more likely to contribute to outside projects, such as his recent cover art for Ken Wells’ story for young adults, Rascal, and his painting and text contributions for Debra Shriver’s tribute to New Orleans, Stealing Magnolias (both of which I’ll cover in future posts).
In New Orleans, my office is a jewel box of special books. They include gifts from authors and friends, first editions of my favorite reads, especially books rooted in Louisiana, as well as assorted National Book Award, Booker, and Pulitzer titles. These blend with hundreds of art books, some from my mom, some from George’s art school years, and most purchased on our travels, as memories of museum exhibitions or personal debates. I wrap each title in plastic and periodically turn out the special covers, Steamboat Gothic, The Collectors, Peace Like a River, so that the bookshelves become a changing work of art.
Our afternoon in Assouline (pictured above) was no different. Although tempted by Barbie, I spent a chunk of George’s slot machine winnings on a reproduction of a 1902 book of French text and paintings illustrating the life of Louis XIV (and no, I don’t read French).
And George? He spent the remainder of his winnings on The History of Penthouse Magazine.
So much for lofty-
*although we haven’t worked out all of the details yet, I’m fairly sure that together the two sets will include The Cajuns of George Rodrigue (Oxmoor House, 1976), Blue Dog (Viking Penguin, 1994), George Rodrigue: A Cajun Artist (Viking Penguin, 1996), Blue Dog Man (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1999), Blue Dog Love (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2001), The Art of George Rodrigue (Harry N. Abrams, 2003) and George Rodrigue Prints: A Catalogue Raisonne (Harry N. Abrams, 2008).
*to be notified with details when we release these sets, sign up for the Rodrigue Studio email list