Recently I challenged George Rodrigue: Pretend I’m a stranger and answer some questions.
“Do you ever get the Blues?”
“No, I really don’t, at least not on my own,” he said. “But I do catch the Blues from others.”
“Like your wife?” I asked. But I already knew the answer.
(pictured, The Red Cover-Up, 2010, acrylic on canvas)
The Blue Dog, ironically, is not about the Blues, at least not for George Rodrigue. Although it began as the frightening loup-garou, for many it’s a happy, positive image representing anything from their pet to New Orleans. Some see universal questions in the dog’s eyes; others see nothing deeper than a cool piece of art.
"Unlike a musician who might need the Blues to sing the Blues, I paint only when I'm happy. The Blues work against my creativity; they don't inspire me."
George Rodrigue sees shape, color and design, endless challenges using a strong form on a blank canvas. He also sees a vehicle to graphically comment on life today --- a refreshing change for an artist who spent years painting the Cajuns and illustrating the past.
(In My Security Blanket, 1996, original silkscreen, Rodrigue combines the iconic American flag with the iconic Blue Dog.)
Although no longer the case, for a few years in the early 1990s, George often related his Blue Dog paintings to his studio dog Tiffany.
“I threw a blanket over her,” I recall him saying, “and she just sat there, peeking out, watching me paint.”
(pictured, You Can Run, but You Can’t Hide From the Blues, 1991, oil on canvas)
The Tiffany-connection was short-lived, however, as George explored deeper meaning within this entity. He faced the fact that, as with the oak tree, he stopped seeing a dog almost from the beginning, focusing instead on composition and graphics, his on-going and principal interest since art school.
(pictured, Hiding from the Moon, 1995, original silkscreen)
This doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t play. In Hiding My Blues From You (below), for example, he floats a ghostly pattern of dark eyes behind the dog, highlighting the futility of cloaking one’s sadness. (1995, original silkscreen)
I pushed George again on the Blues, refusing to believe that he never experienced the drama first-hand:
“Okay,” he admitted, “I remember one time thirty-five years ago when I raised my house in Lafayette. I went through so much to pay for it that I had little time to paint. I renovated my house, but I was broke. I only had a few paintings left for sale, and none, not even the Aioli Dinner, were selling.
“I was overwhelmed, and I guess I had the Blues. I remember sitting in my studio in the middle of the night and thinking that all I wanted in life was to make enough money so I could just paint.”
(pictured, George’s raised house on Jefferson Street in Lafayette, Louisiana; notice Tiffany running across the road. For more photos and a related post see “A Gallery of His Own”)
As he spoke, I thought about George’s new French Quarter gallery and the years it took him to reach this point. After twenty years in a small rented space, he opened in both New Orleans and Carmel, California the galleries he always wanted.
(pictured, Rodrigue Gallery Unveiling, 2010, original silkscreen)
“And what about Katrina?” I asked, recalling his mood and his dark series of paintings.
“I knew it was going to take us (the Gulf Coast region) at least five years to even start to come back,” he said, forgetting to pretend that I’m a stranger. “Katrina wasn’t so much the Blues; it was more like someone took a bat and hit me in the head*.”
-For more on George’s mood and my Blues following Hurricane Katrina, see the post “For New Orleans” from Gambit’s Blog of New Orleans.
-*This reminds me of George's comment during our artsy visit to Marfa, Texas last year: "This is like I'm gonna get a stick stuck in my eye, and I can't wait to get it, because it's good for me!"
-Also this month: “The Artist’s Mother,” a story about Marie Rodrigue, a woman who affected her son with praise and criticism, featured in November’s Country Roads Magazine, and linked here-