Friday, July 29, 2011

Expectations in Baton Rouge

I’ve pondered how to write about this past weekend without turning my blog into a society page of party pics from the Louisiana State University Museum of Art's opening for "Blue Dogs and Cajuns on the River."  But it seems there's no way around it.  Everyone was there, snapping photographs, posing for TV cameras, and eating chicken fingers (thanks to Raising Cane’s).  

George Rodrigue enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience with his portrait subjects, governors and lieutenant governors, all on hand and smiling for the cameras.

(pictured, Marion Edwards, George Rodrigue, Governor Edwin Edwards; Rodrigue painted Governor Edwards' portrait, on view until 9/23 at the LSU Museum of Art, in 1983; for the history of Rodrigue's portraits of Louisiana's Governors, visit here)

Most swooned over Governor Edwin Edwards, recently released from prison and newly married (as of today) to Trina Grimes Scott of Alexandria.  They seem happy, which can’t be easy given the public spotlight, and I wondered especially about her, growing up in small town central Louisiana, facing scrutiny regarding her sincerity and character (and his), as she settles down with a man more than fifty years her senior.

I thought of her also as I tore the extended label from the wall alongside Wendy and Me, our wedding portrait, incorrectly dated 2010.

I’ve come too far to face the naysayers again,” I explained, insisting that the museum correct the date to 1997, restoring my credibility, as I shuddered at a replay of “It will never last.”

When possible, I avoided the crowds and swooned less over Edwards and more over Governor Blanco, bravely fighting eye cancer, venturing out sans makeup, viewing the show through a blur because she wanted to support George Rodrigue, her hometown friend of more than fifty years.

(pictured, George and Wendy Rodrigue, Governor Kathleen Blanco, Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, Coach Raymond Blanco; Rodrigue's portrait of Governor Blanco hangs behind; click photo to enlarge)

I embraced Marion Edwards, in his brother’s shadow once again, and yet devoted to his sibling and to his state.  I watched and admired a man in his eighties cling to good ol’ boy Louisiana while encouraging his wife Penny’s interest in yoga, the arts and the environment through her foundation, Environmentalists Without Borders.

(pictured, Wendy and George Rodrigue with Penny and Marion Edwards; Marion's portrait as King of the Washington D.C. Mardi Gras, 1984, hangs behind; story and photo here-)

After greeting several thousand visitors over four days in Baton Rouge, I remained nervous even after our return to New Orleans, second-guessing the lectures, meetings, and tours, hoping people felt appreciated, so that they know how much this means not only to George, but also to me, to his sons, and to his friends, all of us proud of his accomplishments and eager to share this forty-five year diverse collection of paintings with others.

(pictured, George Rodrigue shares his early landscapes with Todd Graves of Raising Cane’s, who helped sponsor this exhibition)

I was pleased on opening night to see friends from the New Orleans Museum of Art, staff members Marilyn Dittmann and Gail Asprodites, and NOMA Trustee Brian Schneider, supporting George Rodrigue and this exhibition, inspired by NOMA’s collection of Rodrigue paintings.

In their honor, as with our recent visit to the Alexandria Museum of Art, I focused on paintings from the touring NOMA exhibition, Copley to Warhol, celebrating the museum’s centennial and opening this fall in Baton Rouge, interweaving these great American works with paintings by George Rodrigue as I spoke within the Manship Theatre while George painted alongside me. 

(pictured, Sunday in the Manship Theatre, including the first Blue Dog painting, featured on screen and in the exhibition; click photo to enlarge)

George paused mid-lecture and reminded the audience of his first visit to Baton Rouge, a 1971 exhibition at the Old State Capitol, resulting in a hard lesson and his first newspaper review, a feature in the Sunday Advocate:  “Painter Makes Bayou Country Dreary, Monotonous Place."  

The audience laughed at the irony, having seen the current exhibition's far different review, also in the Sunday Advocate:  “Blue Dog Days; George Rodrigue’s iconic canine stars in the LSU Museum of Art.”  Of note is that the paintings featured in that 1971 exhibition and article are on view now in the LSU MOA show.

We look forward to several more rounds of events at the LSU Museum of Art, as well as a fresh start at the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport this fall, the last stop on our statewide tour.  

Thank you, Louisiana, for visiting these shows and welcoming us to your cities.  We hope the exhibition, the events, and our appreciation through personal appearances is everything you expected….and more.


For information on upcoming events with George Rodrigue at the LSU Museum of Art, visit here

Also, I hope you enjoy “Remembering Old Biloxi,” a love letter to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, my latest post for Gambit

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Okaloosa Island

The white sands of Okaloosa Island encompass only 875 acres, a narrow, three-mile stretch of land between Fort Walton Beach and Destin in the Florida Panhandle.  Although part of the larger Santa Rosa Island, reaching forty miles to Navarre Beach, Okaloosa Island remains isolated from the larger area, a military training ground reserved by the United States Air Force.

(pictured, Okaloosa Island, 2011, an original silkscreen collage, combining photography, drawing, and paint by George Rodrigue, 16x38 inches, edition 90; click photo to enlarge)

As a child I walked often to the edge of the island and peered through the fence at the mysterious deserted beach on the other side.  In the other direction, I walked a mile to the pier, a giant dock stretching ¼ mile into the Gulf of Mexico, surrounded by hotels and tourists on the most populated part of the beach (the area pictured in George's print).

We moved to the island in 1977, trading our neighborhood house and yard across town for a condo and a view.  From our front door and balcony at Emerald Isle, I looked both directions, staring every day of my childhood up and down the oft-deserted coastline surrounding our building.  Even then I tried, much like today as I watch George paint in his studio, to concentrate on the moment, the rare experience of living on one of America’s most beautiful beaches, or of watching one of America’s greatest artists at work.

(George Rodrigue paints cats in his Carmel studio)

Dolores Pepper, my wild side, was born on this beach.  But that’s another story, and I’ve already covered it in detail here.  My mother recalled my teenage years as me waving hello or good-bye to the boys, visiting on spring break or family vacations. 

It was on this beach that I first met a Cajun, an Hebert from Lafayette, introducing him as He-burt to my mother, until he corrected me with ‘A Bear.’  We dated for a week each summer for years, despite the fact that my lanky 5’ 10” frame towered over his stocky 5’ 5” one.  Each year he dug a hole in that sugary, soft, cool sand, where I stood while we kissed in the moonlight, the waves breaking behind us.

(pictured, Hebert, Yes; A Bear, No, from Rodrigue's Saga of the Acadians, now on view at the LSU Museum of Art - see the bottom of this post)

This was my beach, and I felt responsible for it.  At night I warned tourists of the dangers of sharks swimming close to the shore.  Early morning, my sister Heather and I collected beer cans and cigarette butts, cleaning up after the spring breakers.  We protested as people uprooted sea oats to decorate their sand castles, and we walked, every day, up and down, taking it all in.

I lived on this beach for eight years, and my mom for another ten. She always knew where to find me.  Heather and I wore our bathing suits under our school clothes from March through May, running straight to the beach from the bus, rather than miss one minute of sun to change.

I grew up holding my mom’s hand as we jumped the waves; ignoring her call as I swam into deep water to the sandbar; watching her, dressed for work, as she stood at the end of the boardwalk hollering “Wendy Anne!,” because the dishwasher remained full and the living room dusty. She patched my jellyfish stings with meat tenderizer and lectured me endlessly on the dangers of sun exposure.

Heather and I dove for sand dollars, swimming all the way back to the beach just to show our mom, and then all the way back to the sandbar, returning them home. We slid on homemade cardboard sleds with our dad on the mountainous dunes, now mostly swept away.

Despite all of those years and memories, Heather and I can’t find a single picture from the beach.  We didn’t own a camera, a float, or a beach ball.  I don’t think we took anything to the beach but a towel.   Once a week I carried my allowance, a dollar in quarters, walking up from the beach to the nearby Tom Thumb for an icy and a few turns at Pac Man.

(pictured, ‘The Next Generation,’ nephews William and Wyatt)

George Rodrigue created the silkscreen Okaloosa Island for me.  My dad still has a place there, and we visit every few years.

This year, September 28 – October 2, we make a special visit to the Miracle Strip, when the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts teams up with the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation for a series of school visits, workshops, and fundraisers, all benefiting the arts in education on the Florida Gulf Coast and throughout Louisiana. (We’ll post a list of events with details at next month).

Such visits are par for the course in George’s home state, particularly in south Louisiana, such as the events surrounding the current exhibition at the LSU Museum of Art in Baton Rouge.   At last I have a chance to give back to my hometown, to a place that gave me so much, a place I never once took for granted.


For more information on the silkscreen Okaloosa Island, including pricing and availability, contact Rodrigue Studio

For a related post I hope you enjoy "Remembering Old Biloxi," in this week's Gambit's Blog of New Orleans

We’re in Baton Rouge this weekend for the opening of “Blue Dogs and Cajuns on the River,” a collection of eighty-five original Rodrigue paintings at the Louisiana State University Museum of Art, July 23rd to September 18th, 2011.  For a list of related events with George Rodrigue, visit here.  

For updates with photographs and more, follow us on twitter:  @George_Rodrigue and @wendyrodrigue

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gator Aid (Nude Swamp Women)

George Rodrigue and I are in Las Vegas this weekend, enjoying a three-day vacation before the much-anticipated, happy chaos of the upcoming Baton Rouge exhibition, opening July 23rd with a series of events at the Louisiana State University Museum of Art.

For that reason, I’m keeping my blog light-and-easy, with mostly pictures and a few oddball thoughts/quotes.  Truth is I’m focused on an upcoming Gambit post, titled something like, “Why Art Doesn’t Work in Las Vegas.”

Unlike the working title, it’s a positive post, detailing artistic wonders just off of the Strip, like the new Frank Gehry-designed Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, as well as our short spurts of adoration for the fake and over-the-top, beginning with a fun visit last night to the Minus 5 Ice Bar, where we met up with their Director of Operations, my high school classmate Noel Bowman (pictured above with George; be sure and click to enlarge).

In the meantime, I share with you photographs of George’s latest masterpiece, Gator Aid, a four by six foot canvas now on view in the Rodrigue Gallery, New Orleans, a painting and title he describes as follows:

“Most people think of an alligator as a dangerous and spooky swamp creature; but in certain situations in life, people need a gator to come to their rescue or aid.  There are plenty of times when a gator in my back pocket, or gator boots, or a gator belt have helped me out.”

 I insisted he get serious.  He continues...

“I grew up in New Iberia with a swamp in the city limits, and we had small, small alligators.  I never saw a large one until 1955 at City Park in New Orleans.” 

But what about the entire painting (click photo to enlarge), I asked.  Why the flowers?

“I love flowers, and I love gators.  I love oak trees and Blue Dogs.”

As I said, we're on vacation.  Obviously avoiding a discussion of style, George shared a story instead:

“In 1980 my Catholic High buddy Ed Vice and I went fishing on Marsh Island.  We left at 4:00 a.m. so we could catch the fish before everyone else.  The day started off bad when, on the way to the dock, we ran out of gas.  I remember that it cost me a fortune -twenty bucks- to pay the gas station guy."

(George, on the left, with Ed Vice, 5th grade, New Iberia)

"In the swamp, I half-slept, flat on my back in the boat, watching the sunrise while Vice drove.  As I studied the sky, I noticed that my view circled the same clouds again and again.  I stood up and realized Vice was gone. I controlled the spinning boat, turned off the motor and started yelling. 
'George I’m over here next to the bank!' he called.
"Immediately I saw it:  a big gator sunned himself not ten feet away from my friend. Vice squinted at me, near-blind, after losing his glasses during his fall from the boat.
I never told him about the gator, afraid he might panic, and I had no idea where we were or how to get back. Vice couldn’t see four feet in front of him.
"It took two cans of gas and seven hours, but I found our way to the port of New Iberia.  We never did fish.
"So every time I paint a gator, no matter what the color, I remember Vice who could have gotten eaten by an alligator on Marsh Island.”

(pictured, George Rodrigue with his buddies Ray Hay and Ed Vice, Lafayette, LA 1980; both men were the subject of many Rodrigue paintings over the years; see the posts under 'Cajuns' to the right of this story)

There’s your story, the same one told to me as we flew to Las Vegas yesterday and recounted again as I practiced yoga this morning.  Admittedly, it leaves style behind; but I’ve written about George's style many times in the past (here’s a good example); and frankly, it's pretty good storytelling-style.....and I’m lucky to be posting at all.

In addition, in following my stat counter recently, I’m alarmed at how many of you find my blog by googling ‘nude swamp women.’ Heavenly day! (Visit the culprit, "Swamp Women," if you dare, here).

George, however, thought this was a kick and insisted that we not disappoint.  Presenting.... "Swamp Lady," a new design for the series Bodies*, by George Rodrigue (click photo to enlarge).

Finally, I leave you with a photo of another recent alligator painting, as it was installed this week at the LSU Museum of Art for their upcoming Rodrigue exhibition, July 23 – Sept 18, 2011.  For more on both the painting and exhibition visit “Blue Dogs and Cajuns on the River.” (again, be sure and click the photo to enlarge)

For a list of events in the coming weeks with George and myself at the LSU Museum of Art, visit here.  We’d love to see you!


*For more on George Rodrigue's series, Bodies, see the posts "The Nude Figure" and "The Art of Modeling"

For some summer fun I hope you also enjoy “Summer in Louisiana:  BMX, Swamp Tours and Art Camp” from this week’s Gambit’s Blog of New Orleans

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Favorite Painting

The Loup-garou is my favorite painting.

I first saw it on a Sunday afternoon in 1991, a day that changed my life. I walked into the Rodrigue Gallery in the French Quarter to visit a friend, the gallery manager. At the time, I worked at Ann Taylor while attending graduate school at Tulane University, and I worried as my college job morphed into my future. If I didn’t take a chance, I might lose the art world.

That day I sought advice regarding museum work. My undergraduate studies at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas focused on the Northern Renaissance.  Contemporary art and Modern art were far from my mind.  

In 1991 I knew nothing of George Rodrigue or his art.  I’d never been to Lafayette nor visited his gallery in the French Quarter. 

The minute I stepped through the Rodrigue Gallery door, I stared at the far wall and a 6x4 foot canvas. Without thinking, I touched it. I was stunned by the power in this painting, by the idea of some hand applying and blending the goopy paint just so, by an artist making something all about, and yet not the least bit about, one strong shape. 

I learned later that this was George’s first painting of the Blue Dog by itself, removed from the Cajun background. I didn’t even recognize it as a dog.
“What is it?” I whispered to my friend.
“It’s the Blue Dog,” he said.

Within a week I left both Ann Taylor and graduate school and worked full-time with the Loup-garou in the Rodrigue Gallery. 

Within six months I moved to California, my first visit to the West coast, where I spent six years at the Rodrigue Gallery in Carmel-by-the-Sea.  I called my friend,
“Please send me the Loup-garou.
“No way. Too expensive to ship.”

I asked until he agreed, and the Loup-garou hung by my desk for two years until my co-worker Sandra sold the painting.  At $50,000 it was our biggest sale to date in Carmel.

The gallery’s success, however, did not assuage my disappointment. In 1997 when George Rodrigue and I married, I still talked about it.

In 2002 George shocked me with the Loup-garou, returned by some negotiation still unknown to me, and the painting hung in our home for the first time.

As I write this, I exchange a stare with my painting.  I’m as confused and mesmerized and weak-kneed as I was twenty years ago.

Great paintings take on a life of their own, beyond the artist’s intent or the owner’s collection, or even (perhaps George’s most frustrating battle) some collective assumption about them. The greatest works of art pose questions long after the artist's death. Consider Degas' Yellow BallerinaPicasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, and Monet's Water Lilies.  

The reason the Blue Dog lasts is not because it’s a dog. I like dogs, but I’ve never had one, nor am I a ‘dog person.’ The Blue Dog lasts because it’s painted and designed well, because it’s rooted in twenty-five years of Cajun paintings, because no matter how long we wait, it won't explain itself, and because, more than anything else, it is painted by George Rodrigue.

I’m not talking about George's appealing manner or 'marketing genius' (a naysayer's backhanded compliment), nor his artistic intent or commentary.  I’m talking about something far more complex and unique to him: his style.


-also this week, experience the insanity of  Swamp Women," in my latest story for Gambit Weekly-

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Blue Dog Glass and Other Unique Rodrigue Items

Although partial to paint on canvas, George Rodrigue experiments often with other mediums, creating the unexpected within his signature subjects.  Printmaking is the most obvious other than painting, particularly his Cajun festival posters and Blue Dog silkscreens

(click photo to zoom, a cameo glass vase within Rodrigue's home; the painting Loup-garou, 1991, hangs in the background and will be on display, along with the vase, in the upcoming LSU Museum of Art exhibition) 

Other mediums include both Cajun and Blue Dog sculptures in bronze, furniture designs, fiberglass cows and human figures, thousands of sketches, including pastel and charcoal renderings, rug designs, cowboy boots, clothing, jewelry, pottery, neon, and recently large scale Blue Dog works in chrome, aluminum, and steel.

(pictured, Rodrigue stands with a fiberglass cow, detailed in this post, installed this week at the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center adjacent to the LSU Museum of Art at the Shaw Center, and host to several related Rodrigue museum events).

Between 1993 and 1995 George Rodrigue worked with Kelsey Murphy and Pilgrim Glass in West Virginia to recreate his Blue Dog designs as cameo glass.  The layered pieces are sandblasted, revealing Rodrigue’s raised patterns in three bowls and a vase, each in editions of thirty-five.  (An early Rodrigue landscape, also scheduled for the LSU exhibition, hangs in the background)

With the exception of the glass, bronzes, and some jewelry, Rodrigue created these novelty items for his own collection and experimentation, offering very few for sale.  For this reason, the bulk of these works remain in his private archives.

(pictured, one of two goblets Rodrigue created with Pilgrim Glass in 1994 as mementos from his reign as King of the Washington D.C. Mardi Gras; he presented the matching glass to Queen Kate Graham; the painting Immaculate Dog from 1992 hangs in the background)

The upcoming George Rodrigue exhibition, “Blue Dogs and Cajuns on the River,” at the Louisiana State University Museum of Art in Baton Rouge, July 23rd – September 18th, features examples from most of these mediums.  Rodrigue installed the smaller items this week, interspersed with his memorabilia in the museum’s large display case.

(Be sure and click the photo to zoom; notice the Pilgrim glass vase, the Amuse Bouche etched wine bottle, and Rodrigue’s Blue Dog cowboy boots)

Of these novelty items, the glass pieces most often elicit audible gasps from viewers.  Generally, people seem surprised by the quality of craftsmanship.  Rodrigue is a perfectionist when it comes to his art, and he explores each idea to its fullest, in some cases taking years to find the best materials for his vision, as with his recent chrome mixed medias, pictured below and detailed here.

In 2004 Rodrigue again experimented with glass, this time with large relief pieces (30x21 inches) suspended between iron poles.  He completed only three such works, two in blue and one clear, as he struggled with imperfections in the thick glass.

Ironically, Rodrigue’s favorite glass piece comes from his friend, Steve Santillo, who co-owns the Blue Dog CafĂ© and Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro in Lafayette, Louisiana with George’s sons.  He surprised Rodrigue several years ago with a stained glass version of the painting Dependence, transformed by Santillo’s own hand.  Recently Rodrigue worked Santillo’s piece into the architectural elements of the new offices of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts at 747 Magazine Street in the New Orleans Arts District. 

The original painting remains in Rodrigue’s personal collection and, when available, echoes Santillo’s work within the GRFA offices.  Although the stained glass remains on Magazine Street,  Dependence, detailed in the post ‘The Abstract Paintings,’ heads to Baton Rouge next week for the LSU exhibition.


For a list of events related to the upcoming George Rodrigue exhibition (July 23 – Sept 18, 2011) at the LSU Museum of Art visit here

And for fun this week, I hope you enjoy the excitement and danger of ‘Swamp Women’ at my blog for Gambit’s Best of New Orleans
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