Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chef Paul Prudhomme

If George Rodrigue has a chef's counterpart, it’s Paul Prudhomme. They grew up in the relatively close Cajun towns of New Iberia and Opelousas, Louisiana. As young boys both pursued their passions as career goals, determined to hone their talents and define their lives with innovative, bold and personal contributions to the art of painting and food. 

Friends for thirty years, they support each other’s talents and efforts at festivals, fund-raisers, gallery exhibitions, and restaurant openings.

On August 20th, 2011 Chef Paul and Rodrigue met on stage at the Manship Theatre in Baton Rouge, where one cooked while the other painted.  Chef's assistant Shawn McBride and I moderated, as the auditorium wafted with the blissfully distracting scent of bronzing chicken and heavily-spiced andouille. 

-click photos to enlarge-

George spoke first, sharing the story of his 1976 gallery exhibition in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was described as a 'Ky-yoon' artist.
"It was Paul," explained George, "who introduced the Cajun culture to the world."

Chef Paul responded with a French song, preparing the audience for the fun of witnessing these two Cajun greats doing what they love best.

For ninety minutes, as the four of us bantered across the stage, even I was surprised at the parallels between Chef Paul and George Rodrigue.  Notably, one produced the first national book on Cajun cooking, while the other produced the first national book on the Cajun culture.  

They both set out from the beginning to preserve what they feared at the time were dying aspects of Acadiana, one influenced by his mother's Opelousas kitchen, and the other by his mother's New Iberia photographs.

I first met Chef Paul in the summer of 1991 at the Rodrigue Gallery of New Orleans in the French Quarter. 
“Coffee with chicory, Dahlin’,” he requested with a smile.

That fall he helped us open Galerie Blue Dog in Carmel-by-the-Sea, feeding and entertaining thousands of visitors.  People called for months afterwards requesting reservations!

George Rodrigue painted Chef Paul's portrait three times. The most famous (above, 1989) commemorates K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in New York City (now closed).

The painting features Rodrigue’s typical style, showing the figure cut out and pasted onto the Louisiana oak tree; yet here George adds ‘the big apple,' also locked in the tree and framing Paul's head. Although barely discernible in a photograph, a redfish appears ghostly in the oak, referencing Prudhomme’s most famous dish, “blackened redfish.” Paul's feet echo the roots of the tree, indicating an inseparable bond between the Louisiana land and the Louisiana chef.

The painting became famous when photographer Annie Leibovitz used it as the backdrop for her portrait of Prudhomme, widely circulated as a magazine ad for American Express.

George also painted Chef in a large genre piece called The Great Cajun Omelet (1984, size 48x65, oil on canvas).

(pictured, Chef Paul with The Great Cajun Omelet and Ronald Reagan: An American Hero)

The painting's story originates in the south of France where Napoleon and his army enjoyed a large omelet made from every egg in the town. The omelet became an annual Easter celebration to feed the poor of Bessiers.

Since 1984 Bessiers' sister city, Abbeville, Louisiana, pays homage to this French tradition with an omelet made of five thousand eggs, distributed free at the festival. Although many chefs participate, it was Paul Prudhomme who first took on the challenge.

(Note:  See The Great Cajun Omelet in Baton Rouge until September 18th, 2011 at the exhibition "Blue Dogs and Cajuns on the River" at the LSU Museum of Art). 

Like George Rodrigue, Chef Paul enjoys challenges of all kinds, including serving daily the freshest meats and seafood. I once asked for a sweet potato pecan pie ‘ala mode’ on a visit to K-Paul’s in the French Quarter, only to learn,
“We don't have ice cream; we don’t have a freezer.”

As a result, following Hurricane Katrina, K-Paul’s was one of the first restaurants to re-open in the city.

George and I feel as comfortable at K-Paul’s as we do in our own kitchen. The restaurant abandoned the family-style seating and no-reservations policy years ago, in favor of small tables and white table cloths and, frankly, a packed house, booked weeks in advance. 

The restaurant is full of Rodrigue's paintings, including not only portraits of Chef Paul, but also a Blue Dog sporting a star on its cheek, a traditional reward at K-Paul's for finishing one's meal.

Paul Prudhomme is our neighbor in the Faubourg Marigny. George visits his test kitchen, adjacent to his house, where he shares new spices and special dishes. He has a remarkable gift for taste, and he relays easily every ingredient in a sauce simply from his palate.

When I think of Chef I'm reminded not only of his outstanding, home grown, and innovative cuisine, but also of a regular guy --- down-to earth and full of kindness. He fed thousands of people out of his warehouse following Hurricane Katrina, without press attention or fanfare.

(pictured, outside K-Paul's, September 2005, a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina)

Occasionally Paul and George drive in Chef’s pick-up to a casino in Belle Chasse, where they play poker (and where a quarter’s considered a big raise). They pass a good time with the locals --- a relaxing, easy evening for these Cajun friends.

(pictured, Paul Prudhomme, Pete Fountain, and George Rodrigue at the New Orleans Museum of Art's Rodrigue exhibition, 2008)

The two work naturally together, and this past weekend, as they left the stage laughing, they knew that they entertained the audience as much as each other.
"Let's take this show on the road!"  exclaimed Chef.

Wide-eyed, George and Chef looked at each other, realizing the fun and possibilities.  Stay tuned for the tour dates (seriously)!


-For a related post, see  "Good, Good, Good Friends," with Chefs Warren LeRuth, Chris Kerageorgiou, and Goffredo Fraccaro

-I hope you also enjoy "Magic Berries," featuring George Rodrigue's painting Winning Cakes, in this week's Gambit's Blog of New Orleans

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Inspired by Louisiana and Scale (New Paintings)

George Rodrigue’s newest paintings, his most important collection in years coming out of New Orleans, are huge, most 4x6 feet or larger.  Normally he paints in his studio in Carmel Valley, California, with long days at his easel and, aside from the occasional houseguest, few interruptions. 

This year for the first time in more than a decade, we’re in New Orleans for the summer, foregoing our usual road trips and the central California cool weather in favor of a statewide Louisiana museum tour organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art (currently at the LSU Museum of Art in Baton Rouge).

For George, this has made for less than ideal painting conditions, as our time in New Orleans is fragmented between lectures, foundation events, social obligations and more, as we follow through on our commitment to promote these exhibitions with personal appearances.

(pictured, Four for Mardi Gras, 2011, 42x78)

Surprisingly, we’ve never toured Louisiana in one concentrated, artsy trek.  In the past, George might show once every few years in a Louisiana museum, with interim exhibitions outside of the state.

I’m reminded of an exchange years ago at the Blue Dog Café when, upon hearing that we were on a thirty-city book tour, a woman asked, “All over Louisiana?”

George and I laughed about her comment for years, not realizing we would attempt that very thing, with museums rather than bookstores, and seven locations, rather than thirty, but an ambitious tour nonetheless.

Be sure and click these photos to enlarge the images-

(pictured, At the Head of the Red River, 2011, 48x72)

As a result, George paints in spurts, his least favorite way of working.  It’s for this reason that I’m surprised at the magnificent paintings coming out of his studio.  It turns out that, despite the interruptions, Louisiana inspires George more than ever. 

(pictured, Gator Aid, 2011, 48x60)

This tour, its events, and its visitors; the creative and eager children associated with the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts; and especially the large walls of his new gallery space obviously affect George as he thinks creatively.

A number of the new paintings are related directly to the exhibitions, such as “Blue Dogs and Cajuns on the River,” pictured above, on view currently at the LSU Museum of Art, and detailed in its own post here.

Most recently, however, George is thinking about Shreveport (Sept. 23 – Dec. 30), the last stop on the tour.  He has a long history with this northern Louisiana city (which I’ll detail in a blog post in a few weeks), and the idea of the red river sits well with an artist who focuses on color and strong design, even as he paints Louisiana, its rivers and roads blending as one, and its oak trees strong, repeated shapes since his earliest landscapes.

(pictured, Blue Dogs on the Red River, 2011, 40x60)

George Rodrigue's newest painting, Four Oaks for Four Dogs, finished just this week, combines his Oak Trees, Hurricanes and Blue Dogs, all in a swirling, abstract mass, reflective, he says, of his mood after months on the road enjoying the landscape, the people, and the oddly comforting heat of the state we love.

(pictured, Four Oaks for Four Dogs, 2011, 48x72)

See George Rodrigue’s latest original paintings, sprinkled throughout this post, at his gallery in New Orleans.

If you can't make it to the gallery, perhaps we'll see you in Baton Rouge or Shreveport, or even on the Florida Gulf Coast  where we present a series of lectures, school visits, and an exhibition late September with the Mattie Kelly Arts Center and Foundation (more details posting soon), or next summer in ....big announcement... the Texas Panhandle, for an exhibition at the Amarillo Museum of Art.


I hope you enjoy “The Art of Self-indulgence,” my latest post for Gambit:  a few thoughts on being married to a high profile artist and on blogging in the first person--

For daily updates from George Rodrigue's tour and easel, my blog and more, please join me on twitter-

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

White Linen Night, the Unexpected

Updated 8/1/13:  Don't miss White Linen Night 2013 on Saturday, August 3rd, featuring the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts in the New Orleans Arts District.  Details at this link

....Followed by Dirty Linen Night at the Rodrigue Gallery, 730 Royal Street on Saturday, August 10th, 2013; details here.

I wouldn’t exactly call it a Dirty Linen Warm-Up, and yet it was, in that it was quite warm.  But the two events hold separate appeal, one amidst posh, renovated warehouses and the other within the historic and grittier French Quarter.  

This was our first White Linen Night as ‘locals’ of the New Orleans Arts District.  We opened the doors of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts’ Education Center at 747 Magazine Street only a few months ago, after nearly a year of construction and planning.

“This is your most beautiful gallery,” a woman said, as I explained that it’s not a gallery, but a non-profit, where we operate scholarship programs, art camps, teacher workshops, George’s Art Closet and more.

“You mean I can’t buy these?” asked another, as she admired an 8-foot chrome and acrylic Blue Dog, part of our ‘Art for Healing’ program.

George designates such works for children’s hospitals, I explained, a nod to his childhood struggle with polio and his isolated, disturbing memories of peers in iron lungs.  Today, he hopes the children and their families experience something positive, maybe even something fun, the colorful environment and giant Blue Dog painted alongside their reflection.

(pictured, the only Men in Black:  George Rodrigue with Kerry Boutte of Mulate’s, in front of a work from ‘Art for Healing’)

“But where can we buy his paintings?” asked an elderly couple, looking dapper in seersucker and white lace.  

I suggested they visit our French Quarter Gallery, opened just over a year ago across the street from the small one-room gallery we occupied since 1989, now a blur as George paints large-scale canvases for the expansive new space.

“We’re from Metairie,” they continued.  “We never get to the French Quarter.  How long have you had a gallery?”

The people, 40,000 of them by some accounts, strolled in the balmy air of south Louisiana, all in white, like ghosts from a Rodrigue painting.

It was a beautiful scene, and I enjoyed not only the view, but also the mood, an excuse to dress like Blanche DuBois or Joanne Woodward, to break up a long hot summer with sparkling, bottled tans and French manicures, with woven feathers mixed with freshly highlighted hair, with towering wedge-heels despite precarious sidewalks, and with the constant flicker of fans on glowing, smiling faces.

(photo by Matthew Hinton, The Times-Picayune)

Despite one-per-person, we blew through 1500 Blue Dog fans in less than an hour, embarrassingly unprepared for this southern phenomenon. 

"We were shocked by the attendance and interest last night in GRFA," says Executive Director Jacques Rodrigue.  "I'm excited to share the foundation with the public, and I can't imagine a better event than White Linen Night to get the word out.   
"People really responded to the programs and seemed eager to learn about our plans not only for arts integration in all subjects, but also our general support of the arts statewide.  My only regret is that we ran out of fans.  I'm already thinking about next year!"  

To my surprise, of the one thousand or more moist, extended hands and curious visitors, probably a third were tourists, most from far out of state – New York, Arizona, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon.  I met schoolteachers on sabbatical, young people on a life’s quest, artists seeking inspiration, children visiting parents, and writers, filmmakers, musicians and more.

“Who painted these?” asked a man, as he admired George’s portraits of authors Walker Percy, Shirley Ann Grau and John Kennedy Toole, hanging behind the desk of GRFA’s Director of Operations, Gus Anderson.
“Where’s the Blue Dog?” asked another, as though it were hidden behind a tree.
"Tell us about the trees!" said one group, as I taught an impromptu class of sorts, explaining the importance of George Rodrigue and his oaks within the genre of Louisiana Landscape Painting.

The biggest shock for locals came from the original painting of Mahalia Jackson, the Jazz Fest poster that never was, along with its story of predictable New Orleans politics (detailed here).

“What are those?” asked hundreds of people, pointing to the Hurricanes, painted years before Katrina, and swirling across the walls of GRFA’s Education Director Marney Robinson’s office.

In the foundation we display a permanent record of a 45-year career, using paintings from our private archives, pieces normally hidden away in a warehouse storage bin (resting, a favorite museum excuse), some of them, such as The Spirit of the Next Hero (pictured below and detailed here), in the open air for the first time in 25 years.

“Why doesn’t he sell paintings like this in the gallery?” they wanted to know, as I explained that there simply aren’t any available, just as there aren’t any of the earlier Blue Dog paintings available.   

Everything is one-of-a-kind, and everything is in private collections, I continued.  The gallery displays the most recent work, an exhibition of George’s important canvases of the moment, sometimes still drying even as we hang them on the walls.

(pictured, original paintings from the Xerox Collection, a series of works from 2000, hang in the office of GRFA's Director of Development, Wayne Fernandez)

White Linen Night, of course, is not just about us.  In fact, it is barely about us, as we joined dozens of galleries on and near Julia Street.  Despite big plans to see it all, I missed everything, unable to break away.  -click photo to enlarge

At the top of my list were Jean Bragg’s exhibition of Oscar Quesada, Mallory Page’s Minimal Glam, Jonathan Ferrara’s Stephen Collier and Generic Art Solutions, the latest by Steve Martin and Jamali at Steve Martin Fine Art, box assemblages by Audra Kohout at Herriard-Cimino, works by Robery Gordy and Tina Girouard at the Contemporary Art Center (reviewed here in Gambit), and last but not least the new Avery Fine Perfumery on St. Joseph Street, the very idea of the place triggering a re-read of Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume.

Undeterred, I’ll visit the galleries this week, enjoying these exhibitions and more within the air-conditioned quiet before donning my ‘dirty linen’ for an equally fun and artsy event in the French Quarter this Saturday. 

(pictured, judging martinis with Ally Burguieres of the new Gallery Burguieres, 736 Royal Street, in search of the official drink for Dirty Linen Night)


-for a related post, I hope you enjoy “The Artist’s Inspiration” in this week’s Gambit’s Blog of New Orleans
-also, don't miss Times-Picayune art critic Doug MacCash's White Linen re-cap; he hit it all!
-for more information on the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts visit here

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Spirit of the Next Hero

“I’m a naïve surrealist,” said George Rodrigue in 1985, “not a sports artist.”

This week George Rodrigue unveils his large-scale painting The Spirit of the Next Hero, on view for the first time since he painted it in 1985 as the official poster for the National Sports Festival, an annual event renamed the U.S. Olympic Festival the following year.

(click photo to enlarge:  The Spirit of the Next Hero features Olympic gold medalists Linda Fratianne, Evelyn Ashford, Greg Louganis, Bart Conner, Mike Eruzione and Mark Breland)

Held during 1985 in Baton Rouge, the event is “more a festive celebration of sports than a hard-edged competition.  ‘This is a fun event,’ said diver Greg Louganis, who won two gold medals in Los Angeles and is one of the celebrity athletes competing at Baton Rouge.  ‘This is a relatively relaxed competition.’” (Sports Illustrated, August 5, 1985)

(pictured, George Rodrigue photographed by Frank Lotz Miller for the Morning Advocate)

Named for composer (of Rocky theme-song fame) Bill Conti’s original composition “The Spirit of the Next Hero,” Rodrigue focused his painting on the Olympic gold medal winners, represented on banners hanging behind, and the spirit of the future Olympian, in this case a confident female athlete. 

(Composer Bill Conti and artist George Rodrigue hold the Olympic torch)

Silkscreen prints from the painting benefited the National Sports Festival.

“The painting fits what I do,” said Rodrigue in 1985.  “I was honored that the festival committee came directly to me and selected me to do the image.  When I first talked to them, I had no idea what I’d come up with --- I’m a ‘naïve surrealist,’ not a sports artist.”

Originally the painting and print were unveiled at a gala event in Baton Rouge at the Louisiana Arts and Science Center, kicking off the 1985 festival with the visiting athletes.  Rodrigue signed prints during the evening as his friend Chef Paul Prudhomme served his signature dish, blackened redfish. 

Not to worry if you missed that event, because you have another chance on August 20th 2011 when Rodrigue and Prudhomme once again present together in Baton Rouge, this time at the LSU Museum of Art during the exhibition “Blue Dogs and Cajuns on the River,” featuring Prudhomme in Rodrigue's Great Cajun Omelet (pictured above and detailed here).

Through a series of circumstances and generous patrons, the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts obtained the inspiring painting, The Spirit of the Next Hero, for its new education center at 747 Magazine Street in the New Orleans Arts District.  This Saturday, August 6th 2011 we unveil both our center and the painting during White Linen Night, an annual arts event sponsored by Whitney Bank and benefiting the Contemporary Arts Center.

(pick up a free Blue Dog fan during White Linen Night; more info here)

The painting joins other Rodrigue portraits, including authors Walker Percy and Shirley Ann Grau, along with a self-portrait of Rodrigue with political analyst Gus Weill.  In addition to the portrait room, the center includes large-scale Cajun works such as Louisiana Cowboys and the Fais do-do, as well as an entire room of Hurricanes and important Blue Dog works from the Xerox Collection.

The education center is a focus of activity for the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA), including both student and teacher workshops, as well as our annual scholarship contest, print donation program, and George’s Art Closet, providing art supplies to schools.

The original paintings star during White Linen Night this weekend, however, as canvases such as The Spirit of the Next Hero, usually reserved for storage or museum loan due to their size, finally hang on permanent public view.

George and I hope to see you at 747 Magazine Street, near Julia Street, for a tour of paintings and programs this Saturday during White Linen Night and again next weekend at the Rodrigue Gallery in the French Quarter for Dirty Linen Night.  Come on out and support the arts.  It's a great time!


-pictured above, the GRFA staff:  Wayne Fernandez, Gus Anderson, Marney Robinson and Jacques Rodrigue

-also in honor of White Linen Night, I hope you enjoy “The Artist’s Inspiration” for Gambit’s Blog of New Orleans

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