“If you’re not good today,” George’s mother used to tell him, “the loup-garou will get you tonight!”
(pictured, Watch Dog, 1984, the first Blue Dog painting)
From his earliest Cajun paintings, George Rodrigue painted from photographs. He hunted through his mother’s old photo albums or posed his friends and family in costumes and vintage clothing, staging scenes from Acadian culture. After his return from the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles in the late 1960s, he made a commitment to preserve the Cajun traditions. He saw his culture fading as the modern world encroached upon South Louisiana, and he recorded its history on his canvas with graphic interpretations of Cajun healers and fishermen, legends like Evangeline and Jolie Blonde, Mardi Gras parades and Crawfish Festivals, and myths such as the loup-garou.
In the beginning, the Blue Dog was no different than these other Cajun subjects, and Tiffany was no different than George's other models. Rodrigue has hundreds of pictures of her, snapped as she sat beside his easel late at night, keeping a Cajun artist company in the wee hours.
"She was a mean little dog, always eating the furniture and chasing the neighbors. But we got along great."
Tiffany was dead four years when Rodrigue chose her photograph as the basic shape for his first painting of the loup-garou in 1984. As almost an after-thought, he painted her a pale grey-blue, an artistic decision, as her white fur reflected the dark night sky.
Over time the Blue Dog’s meaning shifts like the moods of an artist. After several years as a scary phenomenon, sporting red eyes and spooky settings, the Blue Dog changed. At one point it became the ghost of Tiffany, lost and searching for her master, occasionally landing in the wrong studio.
(pictured, Right Place, Wrong Time 1992)
Eventually, George abandoned Tiffany and the loup-garou altogether, and the image became synonymous with its creator, the Blue Dog Man. Rodrigue comments on life today with his paintings, reflecting his feelings and his thoughts on everything from his personal life to politics.
(pictured, Wendy and Me 1997)
The Blue Dog also reflects Rodrigue’s ongoing interest in strong design, bold color and abstract shapes. If one were to ask him,
“What kind of artist are you?”
Most likely today, rather than the Primitive or Pop labels, he might respond,
“I am an Abstract Artist who happens to paint things people recognize.”
George Rodrigue’s most recent works includes large scale (up to fifteen feet) canvases for his new gallery space in the New Orleans French Quarter, as well as monumental public sculptures for the Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art and on Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie, Louisiana (a suburb of New Orleans).
In addition, he continues his philanthropic efforts through the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, promoting arts integration in schools through scholarships, art supplies and lesson plans. In Houston, he donated in 2010 the painting Cat Tie (pictured below) raising $180,000 for Friends For Life, a no-kill animal shelter.
In truth, however, George Rodrigue's heart remains with Louisiana, where the Blue Dog was born and where the oak trees call him home.
This essay is for an article in an upcoming issue of the magazine, Houston Pet Talk
Pictured above, George Rodrigue paints in his New Orleans Studio; the 250-year old oak in Youngsville, Louisiana is destined for demolition, and prints of Rodrigue’s painting will raise money in the coming weeks to save this Acadiana treasure
For a detailed history of Rodrigue’s Blue Dog Series, see any of the posts listed under “Popular Musings” (to the right of this essay)
This week in Gambit, I hope you enjoy the story of George Rodrigue’s 1974 award from the Paris Salon, along with the intrigue of John Singer Sargent’s Madam X in the post “American Artists in Paris”