For George Rodrigue, Mardi Gras equates with color:
“Right after Christmas, which is mostly white lights and silver bells, Mardi Gras season arrives full force, interrupting winter with a burst of color. These hues come from the thousands of different costumes, masks, flags, floats, beads, and doubloons, all of which swirl around the three primary colors of purple, green and gold.”
In 1872 the King and Krewe of Rex selected these official Mardi Gras Colors, meaning justice (purple), faith (green) and power (gold).
As George sat at his easel in Carmel, California, on the heels of Christmas, yet in full Mardi Gras mode, I watched him paint and couldn’t help but think about the detailed and patterned Tibetan sand painting, or mandala, we witnessed barely a week ago in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Stunned by the work, George whispered as we watched the Drepung Loseling monks,
“It’s the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen.”
(for more photos and the story of our recent encounter with Tibetan sand painting see the post: “Tranquility from Chaos”)
Without telling him, I wondered if this ancient tradition would influence his work. However, when I asked him yesterday about his current project, he seemed unaffected by the mandala’s complexity:
“A simplification of Mardi Gras shapes is the first part of the whole carnival season.”
And yet he mentions the sand painting daily, indicating that it resonates still, perhaps in the form of colors, patterns, and strong designs.
George’s visual and creative process is complex and highly personal. Although there are times that specific events such as 9/11/01 or Hurricane Katrina directly affect his work, more often he lives within the current broodings of his mind, known to him alone. A reporter once asked him,
“Now that you’re working in Carmel, will you paint the lone cypress, the ocean, the California countryside?”
Surprised by the question, George replied,
“Why would I do that? My landscape is in here (hand over heart), and that’s Louisiana.”
Unlike paintings on canvas, these Mardi Gras images are George’s first as mixed medias, essentially an original silkscreen design printed on heavy paper, so that the Blue Dog remains identical not only in shape (as expected), but also in size and placement. He paints using acrylics, veritably decorating the dog, costuming it in Mardi Gras imagery and colors.
(pictured, George Rodrigue at his easel in Carmel, California, January 8, 2011)
The Mardi Gras costume tradition surpasses Halloween in creativity, longevity, and necessity, vital for parties, watching parades, and of course riding on floats.
My friend Tabitha Soren* rode with me several years ago in the all-female Krewe of Muses. I recall our headpieces, foam King Cakes, complete with plastic babies and cake knives, driving us crazy as we hurled blinky beads, stuffed animals, and eventually the headpieces themselves (!) to the crowd on Saint Charles Avenue. It’s an insane form of excess and waste, a marathon month-long cause for acute exhaustion and a flu-like recovery, a family event oftentimes confused by the outside press with the confined debauchery of Bourbon Street, a treasured tradition that comforted a wounded region following the worst disaster in U.S. history, and nothing short of an absolute blast.
If you follow this blog, you know that we’ve been on the road since mid-December, crossing America with modern art discoveries in West Texas, a turquoise mine in New Mexico, and an unexpected adventure on I-40. For the first time in my life, I did not decorate for the holidays. And yet just yesterday I overheard George on the phone with our warehouse,
“Be sure and put up the tree; she’ll want to decorate the minute we get home.”
That’s right; we’re putting up a tree next month, an eight foot purple tinsel tradition, covered in masks, beads, clowns, tiny replicas of floats, water meter covers, Saint Louis Cathedral, streetcars, and all things New Orleans.
“…All because it’s Carnival Time, woooohhhh, it’s Carnival time….!
Oh Well it’s Carnival Time and, everybody’s having Fun!”*
*“Carnival Time” recorded April 1970 by Al Johnson at Jazz City Studio, Camp Street, New Orleans
All paintings in this post are mixed medias from the series "Mardi Gras Colors on Paper" by George Rodrigue, 50x38 inches, 2011
Photographs by Tabitha Soren during the Krewe of Muses parade, 2003. For a related post see “Nature Girl: The Art of Modeling.” Also look for this week’s Gambit post focusing on Soren's photography, publishing January 12th at Blog of New Orleans.
See photographs by Tabitha Soren through January 29, 2011 at Wall Space Gallery, Santa Barbara: “Moments of Being,” a group exhibition curated by David Bram. Artist’s reception January 12, 6 to 8 pm