Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Muse

For the past five or more years, a pair of great horned owls sat each morning at the edge of our pond-like pool in Carmel, California and watched the sun rise. I squinted at their silhouettes, side-by-side and sometimes touching, stronger as reflections in the water than the hazy outline of their bodies against the valley. Occasionally I tried, ever so softly, to open the screen door and take a picture, but each time they spread their wings at the noise, landing separated in the branches of our lace oaks or on the peeks of our modern, oversized ‘cabin’ in the woods, sending me running in the early morning light from window to window in search of another glimpse.

My cousin Timber Wolfe, perhaps influenced by his name, reminded me recently that the great horned owls eat the bunnies, small foxes and birds that also call this place home.

“The owls are predators,” he said.

Yet he failed to lessen my romantic sentiment, even after yesterday’s related incident, as I watched a hawk send a covey of quail from our fountain to safety beneath the bushes, where they stood as still as statues for what seemed like hours.

George, who paints all night and sleeps until noon, missed the owls for years.

“Take a picture!” he said, frustrated with my failure as a nature photographer.

This summer things changed with the owls. In the first weeks none appeared; but it was foggy, and I assumed they chose another spot from which to view the morning light. After some time, however, I heard the hooo-hooo for an hour or more each morning, sometimes waking George, so that we discussed the possible reasons for this sad cry. Yet even as we scanned the water’s edge, the branches, and the roof, we couldn’t spy the source.

(pictured, I’m Looking for Someone Like Me, 1992 by George Rodrigue)

This week we watched a movie about muses and artists and love affairs called Bride of the Wind (2001). It was twenty years ago that a similar movie, Impromptu, reflected, in a way, the impromptu shift in my life’s course. I had returned from Vienna only three years before, and it was there that I contemplated Gustav Klimt’s Adam and Eve, a painting I visited dozens of times over many months while musing about my destiny.

(pictured, Adam and Eve, 1916 by Gustav Klimt; also see the post “Indiscretion: A Nude Addendum”)

Impromptu (1991), based on the real life love affairs and friendships of author George Sand (a woman who posed as a man so that she would be taken seriously as a writer) with composers Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt, poet Alfred De Musset, and artist Eugene Delacroix, inspired the hopeful muse within me, as though I were twelve years old again, imagining that my knight climbed the long locks of my hair to reach my tower prison.

(pictured, Portrait of George Sand, 1838 by Eugene Delacroix)

This was also the year I took a chance and went to work for the Rodrigue Gallery of New Orleans. It was the year I met George Rodrigue, the year my life changed forever.

(pictured, Wendy and Me, 1997 by George Rodrigue)

I spent much of 1991 and 1992 reading the complete works of George Sand, as I listened to Chopin’s preludes and etudes, immersing myself in this real-life fairytale.

Similarly, I have a history with the artists in Bride of the Wind, a movie based on the true story of Alma Mahler and her love affairs with composer Gustav Mahler, architect Walter Gropius, and artist Oskar Kokoschka. She lived in that same inspired world, the one that transported me as a college student (through Adam and Eve) to Fin de SiƩcle Vienna.

“How was I twisted magically, since from a hazy world, prospecting her, a small white bird summoned me, ALLOS, ALLOS, whom I never came across. Since in an instant swiftly she transformed herself into my being, like a back door. Suffer, ears, Strive, you eyes, to spot her! I into the indigent summer night, which faded and cries from a rift in the earth.”*

In 1988 my Viennese professor teaching Austrian Art and Architecture claimed to have had a long-running affair with Kokoschka. During her classes I struggled to retain the academic lessons while daydreaming about the romantic ones. It was this notion of ‘the lover of a great artist’ that intrigued me. What on earth must it feel like to be a muse, to affect a creative soul in such a way that their personal expression involves you and remains as such forever?

(pictured, The Bride of the Wind, 1914, a self-portrait with Alma Mahler by Oskar Kokoschka)

I leave that question unanswered here, not because I don't know the answer, but because it confounds me, and I am without the words.

This morning George came into the bedroom from his studio after painting all night. We stood at the window and watched the sunrise.

“There’s only one owl,” I whispered.

“Maybe they split up,” he said.

But we both knew better.

Wendy

*From the poem, Allos Maker (an anagram from the names Alma and Oskar, meaning “Happiness is otherwise”), by Oskar Kokoschka, 1913

For a related post, see “Nature Girl (The Art of Modeling)”

Coming this weekend: “The Cajun Bride of Oak Alley”

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Blue Dog in a Landscape

After more than forty years and thousands of paintings, it is the dog-in-a-landscape that stands out as George Rodrigue’s most popular subject.

The first Blue Dog painting (1984) depicts a scary loup-garou in a landscape (pictured here), a style that continues for the following five or six years. These early Blue Dog works combine George’s established landscapes, including the dark oaks cut off at the top, with a new strong image, a ghost dog said to lurk in bayous and sugar cane fields...

(pictured, Devil Dog, 1990, 20x24, oil on canvas; for more on the Red Dog visit here)

...and later, the spirit of a studio dog on a journey to find her master.

(pictured, The Re-birth of Tiffany, 1992; for more on the Tiffany paintings, visit here)

By the early-mid 1990s the Blue Dog leaves the landscape, as George transports it to surreal and varied locations within his imagination. Although rooted in Louisiana, the dog becomes an entity that grants access to a wider subject matter, allowing George to comment on life today, in direct contrast to his Cajun paintings, which he designed to reconstruct and preserve the past. (pictured, My Acadian Heritage, 2007)

Yet throughout these changes, from the Cajuns to Blue Dogs to Hurricanes and Bodies, George Rodrigue holds on to Louisiana through the Oak Tree.

It’s a consistent thread throughout his work, and it’s a persistent subject that changes right along with changes in the Blue Dog Series. (see the Blue Dog links under 'Popular Musings' to the right of this post)

(pictured, I Remember This, 1992)

Like the Blue Dog, from the beginning the Oak Tree is a well-defined, hard-edged shape particular to Rodrigue. He paints the dog not as a small animal at a person’s feet, but rather as a person itself, large-scale and eye-level. The Oak Tree also has specific and unusual characteristics, such as its foreground location and its odd shape, cut off at the top, rather than the background location and birds-eye view of traditional landscapes. George pieces the dog and tree together like a puzzle, almost as if the tree locks the dog into place.

(paintings below from 2000 and 2001)

In the abstract works of 2001-2003, the Oak Tree, although not as consistent a subject matter as the dog, is just as stylized.

(pictured, Evermore, 2003, 24x24)

Similarly, both the Blue Dog and the Oak Tree splinter, as if in search of definition (and a hard edge) in the post-Katrina paintings.

(pictured, It's at Night I Get Broken Up, 2006, 36x24)

As with George’s Cajun paintings, these dog-in-a-landscape canvases are more popular, ironically, outside of Louisiana than within the population that, like George, has oak trees in its backyard and grew up with stories of the loup-garou.

I’ve heard George say many times that his Cajun paintings are most popular among a non-Cajun audience, one that in many cases never lived in Louisiana nor (certainly in the 1970s) heard the word ‘Cajun.’ According to George, this has to do with how he paints and how he interprets his world. His style is unique and well-defined, and this ensures his longevity and his wide appeal, beyond his regional subjects.

(pictured, The Landing of the Rodrigue Brothers, 2009, 24x48, oil on canvas)

Several years ago, inspired by the Bodies series and a new water-based oil paint, George approached his landscapes in oil for the first time since his necessary switch to acrylics some twenty years ago. He could hardly wait to revisit this classical subject with these paints, and the result is rich and full of depth, a quality more difficult to achieve in the fast-drying acrylics.

(pictured, A Beautiful Place, 2009, 36x24, oil on linen)

Today George continues to paint the dog in a landscape. However, as is typical of his recent work, most pieces are bright colored, in acrylic paint, and large scale. There is little that resembles an actual landscape, and indeed the paintings, although the titles occasionally suggest otherwise, do not reference any place in particular.

(pictured, We Are Here at the Broussard Oaks, 2008, 20x30, acrylic on canvas)

Acrylic paint provides George with the neon colors and abstract, hard edges that he desires most on his canvas today. These are a long way from the black oaks of the late 1960s and early 1970s (See the post "Early Landscapes" for images).

(pictured, Pale Rider, 2010, 24x20, acrylic on canvas)

But isn’t that how it should be? It’s true that after forty years, George Rodrigue still paints the Oak Trees. And after twenty-five years, he still paints the Blue Dog. (The same can be said for Jolie Blonde, a subject since 1974.) However, neither subject as painted today could be mistaken for its earlier counterpart.

(pictured, Heaven on Earth, 2010, 20x24, acrylic on canvas, an interesting comparison to Devil Dog from 1990, pictured at the top of this post)

George says that in order for him to keep painting,

“My work must be fresh. It has to be exciting for me. It can’t be the same old thing.”

It’s an ironic statement coming from an artist associated so strongly with repetitive imagery. Indeed he chose specific subjects, stylized them, and painted them over and over, ever since his first exposure to Pop Art in Los Angeles while at Art Center. And yet, if you’ve followed his work since 1967 (or even this blog over the past year), then you know that George’s words are true. I mean, how many thousands of landscapes by thousands of artists exist in the world? How many paintings of dogs? And yet, George Rodrigue’s are unique to him. There is nothing redundant about them; nor, even as he’s grown and changed on his canvas, would they be mistaken for someone else’s work.

(pictured, In the Fall Season of My Life, 2010, 30x40, oil on linen)

This distinction is an immense accomplishment for George while, at the same time, an on-going challenge. In short, it keeps the work ‘exciting for him...'

...and, judging by the on-going wait list for paintings of a 'Blue Dog in a Landscape,' exciting for the rest of us as well.

Wendy

The painting pictured above and in progress throughout this post is October Sunset, painted September 2010 in George Rodrigue's Carmel studio, 24x30 inches, acrylic on linen

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nature Girl (The Art of Modeling) G-RATED

(Note: For Facebook, I've amended the 'Modeling' post of 9/21/10, removing any images related to nudes. For further information, see the bottom of this post.)

Griping about the challenges of modeling is humiliating, so I won’t do it. I mean, a model lies on a chaise lounge or perches on a stool or strolls towards the camera wearing costumes, beautiful clothes, or occasionally nothing at all. It’s ridiculously easy, right? Just last weekend, however, as I headed towards a previously scouted site for photographer Tabitha Soren, this talented artist, draped in heavy camera equipment, humbled me with her concern:

“Can I bring you some water?” she asked,

…as if I couldn’t handle modeling without dehydrating.

I’ve modeled for George Rodrigue for many years, sometimes posing as Jolie Blonde and occasionally as myself, but most often as no one in particular. He uses my shape and stance within designs for figurative works, even if he’s using a different person’s face or an anonymous subject.

He’s quite serious during these sessions, occasionally setting up drop cloths and draped backgrounds, or directing me towards a rather uncomfortable perch on a tree branch or windowsill, or sending me, partially submerged, into (sometimes freezing) water. He’s photographed me in this way thousands of times, spending many hours on lighting and directing, followed by Photoshop, for images that may or may not result in paintings.

I do admit, with embarrassment, that it took me some time to get the hang of this. The first year’s (maybe two) worth of photographs ended up in the garbage. Like most kids, I grew up smiling and posing for pictures, and George nearly gave up on me several times as he tried to break this habit. I struggled not to look goofy or awkward, and we spent months making me not only comfortable in front of the camera, but also attune to George’s needs, including his preferences for certain poses, hand placement, head angle, etc.

image removed-

We abandoned make-up from the beginning, preferring the all-natural look, aside from a drop of lip gloss. My hair, he claims, looks better dirty and uncombed for the camera, so that's easy. And clothing, when there is any, is rarely anything other than a prairie-style dress or a t-shirt, jeans, and a broad-brimmed hat.

We learned fast that I work better blind. Without my glasses, I'm undistracted. Directions such as “look straight at me with confidence” or “focus on a loss” or “you’ve just risen from the dead” become willing suspensions of disbelief. With the world a blur, my imagination takes over.

image removed-

This working-blind, for example, may not have helped me this weekend when it came to avoiding sticks and poison oak as I climbed barefoot in the Big Sur wilderness, yet it did make for a more convincing shot when Tabitha directed “you’re being chased by hundreds of wood rats”...

…or (in Palo Colorado Canyon) “by the scary man we passed in that cabin down the road.”

George and Tabitha have completely different needs when it comes to photographs. George uses his images in sections, cutting the figure out of the photograph and pasting it into a painting’s design. In the sketch below, for example, he posed me in a chair in our living room, as opposed to outside among the oaks. (A painting from the Hurricane Series hangs on the wall).

image removed-

For the Bodies artwork below, I walked down the stairs outside George's Carmel studio, as opposed to stepping off of a tombstone. (photograph posting postmortem)

image removed-

The actual cemetery photographs (shot at Lake Lawn in Metairie, Louisiana) helped George with concept and placement only.

Tabitha’s photographs, however, are the finished artwork. She’s far more concerned with the overall composition and details as she shoots the picture, because she doesn’t have the opportunity later to change it with paints on a canvas.

(Pictured below: photographs by Tabitha Soren shot at 2:00 a.m. She had me hold completely still during the ten-minute exposures so that all movement comes from the light and breeze, whether on the water, in the sky, or in my hair. New Orleans, 2002)

Whereas George lights the model so that he can see the details when it comes to painting, Tabitha’s lighting is an element of her craft, even as she takes the shot. This doesn’t mean that lighting isn’t important to George. In fact, it is a key element, especially in his Cajun paintings. However, the light is unimportant until he sits down at his easel.

(pictured above: Evangeline Park Bench by George Rodrigue, modeled by Diane Bernard Keogh. For more Evangeline paintings, as well as George’s photographs of Diane, visit here)

Tabitha’s figures oftentimes (although certainly not always) are less important as subjects than other elements, as in the swimming pool examples above. If George paints a figure, however, that figure is the focus of the painting, with all other elements subjugated to it in a highly ordered and contrived manner. Unlike photography, there is no guesswork, no accidents, and no second takes on George Rodrigue’s canvas. To be clear, neither artist, in the works reproduced here, is going for a portrait. (below: artwork from Bodies, 2003)

Sunday night, exhausted and yet high on my afternoon brush-with-the-arts, I carefully removed the burrs from my tangled hair, soaked my feet for an hour (after which my friend Barbara fast-tracked her way towards sainthood by removing a dozen or more splinters from my shredded skin), bathed in Tecnu, rubbed icy-hot on my aching muscles, popped an antibiotic (despite George’s thorough inspection for deer ticks), and dropped Tabitha an email of thanks for the beautiful day.

I truly am honored to pose for these artists, creative individuals that I admire and, to a degree, envy, as I think back on my weak and uninspired studio projects from college, along with the pocket-size camera buried somewhere in my closet. Unlike photographers in the fashion world, perhaps George and Tabitha will find use for me even as my wrinkles and ‘muffin tops’ set in.

Wendy

For the unedited post, including images, visit here. Viewer discretion is advised.

For related posts, visit “The Nude Figure” , “Indiscretion: A Nude Addendum” and "The Muse"

Also see "Tabitha Soren: Uprooted" at Gambit's Blog of New Orleans

Photo above by Tabitha Soren, Big Sur, California, September 2010. Visit Tabitha's website at www.tabithasoren.com

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nature Girl (The Art of Modeling)

Griping about the challenges of modeling is humiliating, so I won’t do it. I mean, a model lies on a chaise lounge or perches on a stool or strolls towards the camera wearing costumes, beautiful clothes, or occasionally nothing at all. It’s ridiculously easy, right? Just last weekend, however, as I headed towards a previously scouted site for photographer Tabitha Soren, this talented artist, draped in heavy camera equipment, humbled me with her concern:

“Can I bring you some water?” she asked,

…as if I couldn’t handle modeling without dehydrating.

I’ve modeled for George Rodrigue for many years, sometimes posing as Jolie Blonde and occasionally as myself, but most often as no one in particular. He uses my shape and stance within designs for figurative works, even if he’s using a different person’s face or an anonymous subject.

He’s quite serious during these sessions, occasionally setting up drop cloths and draped backgrounds, or directing me towards a rather uncomfortable perch on a tree branch or windowsill, or sending me, partially submerged, into (sometimes freezing) water. He’s photographed me in this way thousands of times, spending many hours on lighting and directing, followed by Photoshop, for images that may or may not result in paintings.

I do admit, with embarrassment, that it took me some time to get the hang of this. The first year’s (maybe two) worth of photographs ended up in the garbage. Like most kids, I grew up smiling and posing for pictures, and George nearly gave up on me several times as he tried to break this habit. I struggled not to look goofy or awkward, and we spent months making me not only comfortable in front of the camera, but also attune to George’s needs, including his preferences for certain poses, hand placement, head angle, etc.

We abandoned make-up from the beginning, preferring the all-natural look, aside from a drop of lip gloss. My hair, he claims, looks better dirty and uncombed for the camera, so that's easy. And clothing, when there is any, is rarely anything other than a prairie-style dress or a t-shirt, jeans, and a broad-brimmed hat.

We learned fast that I work better blind. Without my glasses, I'm undistracted. Directions such as “look straight at me with confidence” or “focus on a loss” or “you’ve just risen from the dead” become willing suspensions of disbelief. With the world a blur, my imagination takes over.

This working-blind, for example, may not have helped me this weekend when it came to avoiding sticks and poison oak as I climbed barefoot in the Big Sur wilderness, yet it did make for a more convincing shot when Tabitha directed “you’re being chased by hundreds of wood rats”...

…or (in Palo Colorado Canyon) “by the scary man we passed in that cabin down the road.”

George and Tabitha have completely different needs when it comes to photographs. George uses his images in sections, cutting the figure out of the photograph and pasting it into a painting’s design. In the sketch below, for example, he posed me in a chair in our living room, as opposed to outside among the oaks. (A painting from the Hurricane Series hangs on the wall).

For the Bodies artwork below, I walked down the stairs outside George's Carmel studio, as opposed to stepping off of a tombstone. (photograph posting postmortem)

The actual cemetery photographs (shot at Lake Lawn in Metairie, Louisiana) helped George with concept and placement only.

Tabitha’s photographs, however, are the finished artwork. She’s far more concerned with the overall composition and details as she shoots the picture, because she doesn’t have the opportunity later to change it with paints on a canvas.

(Pictured below: photographs by Tabitha Soren shot at 2:00 a.m. She had me hold completely still during the ten-minute exposures so that all movement comes from the light and breeze, whether on the water, in the sky, or in my hair. New Orleans, 2002)

Whereas George lights the model so that he can see the details when it comes to painting, Tabitha’s lighting is an element of her craft, even as she takes the shot. This doesn’t mean that lighting isn’t important to George. In fact, it is a key element, especially in his Cajun paintings. However, the light is unimportant until he sits down at his easel.

(pictured above: Evangeline Park Bench by George Rodrigue, modeled by Diane Bernard Keogh. For more Evangeline paintings, as well as George’s photographs of Diane, visit here)

Tabitha’s figures oftentimes (although certainly not always) are less important as subjects than other elements, as in the swimming pool examples above. If George paints a figure, however, that figure is the focus of the painting, with all other elements subjugated to it in a highly ordered and contrived manner. Unlike photography, there is no guesswork, no accidents, and no second takes on George Rodrigue’s canvas. To be clear, neither artist, in the works reproduced here, is going for a portrait. (below: a painting from Bodies, 2003)

Sunday night, exhausted and yet high on my afternoon brush-with-the-arts, I carefully removed the burrs from my tangled hair, soaked my feet for an hour (after which my friend Barbara fast-tracked her way towards sainthood by removing a dozen or more splinters from my shredded skin), bathed in Tecnu, rubbed icy-hot on my aching muscles, popped an antibiotic (despite George’s thorough inspection for deer ticks), and dropped Tabitha an email of thanks for the beautiful day.

I truly am honored to pose for these artists, creative individuals that I admire and, to a degree, envy, as I think back on my weak and uninspired studio projects from college, along with the pocket-size camera buried somewhere in my closet. Unlike photographers in the fashion world, perhaps George and Tabitha will find use for me even as my wrinkles and ‘muffin tops’ set in.

Wendy

For related posts, visit “The Nude Figure” , “Indiscretion: A Nude Addendum” and "The Muse"

Also see "Tabitha Soren: Uprooted" at Gambit's Blog of New Orleans

Photo above by Tabitha Soren, Big Sur, California, September 2010. Visit Tabitha's website at www.tabithasoren.com


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