Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Meet Tiffany, the Original Blue Dog

It was an accident that a terrier/spaniel mix named Tiffany found herself involved with an artist’s legacy years after her death. The Blue Dog, in truth, has little connection to the Rodrigue family pet. Instead, its roots lie in a Cajun story, the loup-garou, a scary legend about a werewolf-type dog that lurks in cemeteries and sugar cane fields, haunting naughty children in the night.

“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)

This includes his efforts following both September 11th, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina, when he raised more than $3 million for humanitarian relief using his poignant concepts.

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.

Wendy Rodrigue

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

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8 comments:

  1. I am very proud to say that the original blue dog painting you describe in your blog, was on display at my restaurant, "Mulate's, in baton rouge for about three years. Many more of george's paintings have hung and still hang on the walls of Mulate's, through the last thirty years. It is an honor and a privilege to call george my friend.

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  2. A HUGE thank you to George for his contribution to save the Youngsville oak. Just his interest in this project has raised awareness and give us hope.

    http://musicmaven.wordpress.com/

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  3. Thank you, Dawn! I so enjoyed your website and will probably quote you, a Youngsville native, in an upcoming post about the grand Heritage Oak.

    And Mulate's above, I'm sure that if George were responding personally to your comment, he would write "Likewise!"

    Thanks for reading, everyone-
    Wendy

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  4. Quote way, dear lady. I'm passionate about a few things and because my Daddy was a Nurseryman for 45 years, as well as an avid geneaologist and historian, this particular issue stirs me. Support from the community and others, like you and George, may gain enough attention to sway City Government to reconsider. Thanks, again!

    P.S. Go by Le Chat Noire Cabaret in New Orleans and tell Barbara that Dawn and Alex deClouet sent you. Her husband, Biff, is a great friend (and an artist also).

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  5. Hello, again Wendy, I love the stories about Tiffany. I have a copy of "La Loup-Garou de Cote Gelee" that I ordered in the early '90s after my first visit to NO and the Rodrigue gallery. At that time, that's all I could afford by George and that was before his "Blue Dog" books were published. I think Tiffany was so cute, and she reminds me of my first Chihuahua/terrier mix who I had at that time. My current dog also reminds me of Tiffany. I know the "real" Tiffany was kind of a "happy accident" in George's work, but I'm still fascinated by the real dog behind Blue Dog. Thanks for your blogs!

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  6. Thank you, Dorissa- Always nice to hear from you! And that's quite a classic book you have - rather hard to find these days. Enjoy - Wendy

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  7. My cousin David DuBos made a video about the blue dog with Whoppie Goldberg as the voice of Tiffany. I saw it at my Uncle Clarence's house and have never been able to get a copy of it. Any help with this I would love to purchase a copy. Thanks, Patrick DuBps

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    1. Hi Patrick, Although we don't offer the video for sale, it is uploaded to You Tube. Simply search "Rodrigue A Man and His Dog," and you'll find it there in three parts. Thank you for your inquiry- Wendy

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