Monday, February 28, 2011

I First Loved Picasso (Again)

On March 1st, 2011, George Rodrigue and I celebrate fourteen years of marriage. He kindly insists that our gift to each other exist as a re-blog of my choice. This provides me with a week away from blogging, more time for Mardi Gras and my current obsession with Cleopatra (a new book by Stacy Schiff), and best of all more cherished conversation and unpredictable adventure with my husband.

We were married on a cloudy day, as we stood beneath an oak tree on Jefferson Island near George's hometown of New Iberia, Louisiana. Of the five hundred (or was it eight hundred?) people in attendance, I knew maybe fifty. It was two weeks before my thirtieth birthday.


Looking back, I could have done without the grand affair. One would think, as often as I dreamed of being a princess or festival queen, that this would be my moment. Yet we were engaged for a short two months, and I had no part in the wedding plans, other than my hope that the tulips would bloom in time for the ceremony. They did not.

Two days before our wedding, George took me to Mary Ellen's Bridals in Lafayette, Louisiana, where he chose a sample dress from the rack, helped me into it and onto the pedestal, and doled out $200 cash for a used gown that I could barely see through my complicated tears. Two weeks earlier, I chose the first china pattern I saw on the Dillard's shelf, unable to deal with the process and the tradition, with the fairy tale happening to my life.

"Forgive me, but it seems to me you're in a muddle," said Mr. Emerson to Miss Honeychurch in E.M. Forster's A Room With a View.

That weekend I would marry Picasso, standing before what seemed like the entire world, and I felt overwhelmed. How could I know that in a mere ten minutes --- the time it took for Kiri Te Kanawa to sing (via recording) Puccini's "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from La Rondine; the time it took for me to realize as I walked the path around the oak tree that tulips bloomed in pots throughout the grounds, a surprise gift from George; and the time it took for this remarkable person to speak of his love for me in front of everyone he knew --- I would know unplanned, eternal, and perfect romance.




Here's to George,
And here's to the fairy tale (his, mine, and yours)-

Wendy

Note: As if reading our minds, Douglas Shiell of the Rodrigue Gallery gave us a book this week, Picasso Guitars: 1912-1914, recently published by New York's Museum of Modern Art. George and I poured through it together, discussing repetitive imagery, "taking the same thing and doing it in a different way," said George, pausing on these pages.



"I First Loved Picasso," first published January 2010



"I am using your latest papery and powdery procedures. I am in the process of imagining a guitar and I am using a bit of dust against our horrible canvas." Pablo Picasso, in a letter to George Braque, 1912

As a kid, sometime around age twelve, I discovered my mother’s art books. She protected her prized tomes within plastic covers, locked behind the glass doors of a large, bright yellow wooden bookcase. Her collection included overviews of the Renaissance, Ancient Greece, and Lost Worlds, as well as Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Rubens, Durer, and Michelangelo ---all massive books she purchased while an art student at LSU around 1960.

Art books are expensive, and back in those days her family (an overnight success story in the oil industry in the mid-1950s) had the money to support the whims they understood, such as fashion and cars (in my mother’s case, a yearly new Cadillac convertible), as well as the whims they never understood --- her major in Fine Arts and her collection of art books.

By the time my sister and I appeared, the money was gone, the dresses relegated to a costume closet, and the cars long sold. But the art books remained (and remain) protected and precious. Among them is a boxed set of linen-covered monographs of modern artists. These include Klee, Kandinsky, Dali, Braque, and my favorite, Picasso (pictured).



Pablo Picasso died in France in the spring of 1973. I was a young child, but I recall my mother showing me his work and talking about this creative genius. Her hero-worship affected me, and the artist rose even higher on that pedestal when my elementary school art teachers chose him for our studies. Looking back, they probably found Picasso more accessible to young students than the more lofty Abstract Expressionism of the day, as typified by artists like Motherwell and de Kooning. (Pop Art, as far as I can tell, was either not yet understood or not yet taken seriously enough to be worthy of the classroom).

Ironically, a decade earlier, as George Rodrigue studied art in Lafayette and Los Angeles, he too faced the lingering academic art of the day, Abstract Expressionism. Yet it was Pop Art, a movement dismissed by his teachers, which made the biggest impression on him during these years. (See the post Art School: Lafayette and Los Angeles, 1962-1967)

When I reached high school and later studied Art History in college, I recall Picasso as practically vilified in academic circles. There was talk that he hadn’t done anything worthy of study since Cubism or Guernica, and that he lost his touch as an old man, floundering between grotesque figures and half-hearted revisits of his earlier styles. (below, a late Picasso)



Rather than discourage me, these criticisms made me more curious, and I poured through my mother’s books searching for the answers --- hoping to train my own eye to see the master’s downfall in his artwork.

Yet I saw only brilliance.

I returned to his simplest images repeatedly, and I wondered: Why should this picture be in a book? Why should he call it finished? What could it possibly mean? Why do I come back to it again and again? (pictured, A Bull on canvas by Picasso, and below that, a Face on ceramic)



And finally, why is it that I would give up all my worldly possessions to own a simple Picasso drawing when even I, who can’t so much as draw a daisy, could probably produce a fair copy?



It was during this time that art took on specific meanings for me. I became an art snob in my circle-of-one. I gained freedom of thought, and I dared to look at art in my own way.

Little did I know that I was training for my future life with an artist, not only to study the work itself (for my own appreciation of what George has done in the past, for the projects currently on his easel, and for his unwillingness to retrace old ground); but also to face both the obvious insults (“my 8 year-old kid could paint that!”) as well as the disguised ones (“Rodrigue is a brilliant businessman, a marketing genius!”*)

* George insists that I’m overly sensitive in this area and that most people don’t see this attitude as a negative. Perhaps he’s right, but it still places me on the defensive. (pictured, Untitled Sketch by Rodrigue 1994)



Picasso’s whole life --- the Blue Period, Cubism, the African paintings, and so much more --- is inside his simplest works. Had he painted them all at age nineteen, they would mean nothing. But at age ninety, they mean everything. The fact that he probably painted some in a matter of minutes or that second grade students everywhere can duplicate some of his most abstracted designs is irrelevant.



I asked George about Picasso, and he pulled a well-worn book, Goodbye Picasso, (by David Douglas Duncan, Grosset & Dunlap, 1974) from the shelf, turned to a bookmarked page and said:
“I remember how messy his house was, and I was so impressed.”



He also describes an art school assignment at the Art Center College of Design, in which he was ‘to create a painting in the style of an old master.’ George chose a guitar and collage, ala Picasso. (pictured on top, a Picasso "Guitar" from 1912; below, Rodrigue's "Guitar" from 1965)



I’ve told George for years that he’s Picasso in many classrooms --- not the same artist and not the same talent, but a similar inspiration to what I recall from my own school years. It’s all so familiar (and somewhat unsettling), as though I’ll look up at my mother’s books and see “Rodrigue” not on a shiny new book, but on the worn-out titles and the plastic-covered jackets. (It’s the same eerie feeling I had at the New Orleans Museum of Art, where their memorabilia room held George’s various personal items --- the same things I see everyday in our house).

Unsurprisingly, as George grows older the critics take notice of his early works, the same pieces they denounced not only as he painted them, but for thirty years following. (Consider Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon, reviled in its day, and now considered his masterpiece; consider George’s first review, “Artist Paints Dreary, Monotonous Oaks” (from the Baton Rouge Advocate), the same works that today many in this region’s academic art world claim are his best). (pictured, Picasso's Les Demoiselles d' Avignon from 1907; Rodrigue's Louisiana: The State We Live In from 1972)



Again, I’m comparing the two artist’s situations, not their actual artwork. Also, keep in mind that one coveted the world’s approval, while the other hoped for the approval of his artistic peers in his home state.

And yet again and again I hear from teachers and students that George is the only living artist on their syllabus. They study his Blue Dog paintings alongside Monet’s Water Lilies, Van Gogh’s Self-portraits, and even Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Just as my teachers found Picasso more accessible to young students than the abstract expressionists, today’s teachers may choose Rodrigue over conceptual, installation, and ‘intellectual’ artists for the same reason.

Like Picasso, George Rodrigue reinvents himself. Most artists hope for one unique series of work discernible as their own. And yet both Picasso and Rodrigue accomplished this multiple times. They both recognized the importance of a unique idea.

This is the only real comparison I dare to make between Picasso and Rodrigue --- and it in no way links their actual artwork. To go further would be overly presumptuous on my part and would invite criticism the likes of which I am unable (and unwilling) to combat. (George too would be mortified by my gall in doing so). I am only drawing the connection between Picasso’s unwitting participation in my discovery of art as a child and what I know for a fact to be George’s similar role in classrooms today.

George, although extremely confident in his art, is uncomfortable with his artistic legacy (and particularly any link to the masters). He’s still working towards it and, more than anything, hoping for it. (pictured, Mars Candy Bar, 2009, oil on canvas, 48x36 inches)



"It took me a whole lifetime to learn how to draw like a child again." - Pablo Picasso

Wendy

I hope you enjoy "Southern Delicacies (Old Ladies Talking)," a story about the joy and education found in eaves-dropping, in this week's Blog of New Orleans for Gambit, featuring George Rodrigue's paintings of Cajuns

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Flowers Bring Me Luck (A French Quarter Garden Brings Blessings to All)

Nearly one year ago George Rodrigue moved his New Orleans gallery from its rented location of twenty years at the corner of Royal Street and Orleans Street to a permanent location at the corner of Royal Street and Pere Antoine Alley, adjacent to St. Louis Cathedral.

Although outward appearances suggest a simple move across the street, the change holds resounding significance for an artist who longed for a gallery of his own and who remains deeply connected to an historical city. The week we signed the purchase papers, the Monseigneur himself called to ‘welcome us to the neighborhood,’ despite a relocation of no more than twenty feet.

The new Rodrigue Gallery takes up an enormous space on the bottom floor of a four-story historic French Quarter building. For now, we rent out all but two apartments on the upper floors, destined in our dreams to be the Rodrigue Museum. A small second floor space overlooks Pere Antoine Alley, named for a popular pastor from 1774 until his death in 1829. Together with his friend, Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau, they focused their efforts on assisting New Orleans’ large slave population, especially women and children.

Across Pere Antoine Alley, our second-floor vantage grants an excellent view of St. Anthony’s Garden, the green space directly behind St. Louis Cathedral. The space dates back to the early 1700s as not only a garden, but also a place for gatherings, markets, meals, rental property, and even a temporary church. Pere Antoine used the space as a kitchen garden, feeding the church’s monks.

(pictured, St. Anthony's Garden as it looks today)

According to a recent excavation project by the University of Chicago’s Anthropology Department, this peaceful French Quarter anomaly holds secrets to American history:

“The site exceeded expectations in its ability to reveal how the early city was constructed – from its earliest temporary architecture (ca. 1717-1726) and the meals that Governor Bienville’s pioneers were eating, to the unexpected influence of Native Americans in the form of hybrid pottery, decorated pipe bowls, and a hut with an axe-hewn rectangular European form and possible palmetto thatch walls of Native American technique.”

Furthermore, the excavations turned up interesting finds of clothing, accessories, coins, and other items from late eighteenth and early nineteenth century New Orleans, when Orleans Street and its raised sidewalks* continued past Royal Street, ending at the church’s back door.

(*Early man-made levees along the Mississippi River extended a mere four to six feet in height, meaning that the city often flowed with water)

With a significant purchase of property in this, a unique and historical American city, comes responsibility. George Rodrigue recognized this from the start and spent nearly a year shoring up walls, replacing dangerous and outdated electrical wiring, and above all else, focusing on general clean-up. With the gallery open and the building near-completed (although admittedly an indefinite work-in-progress), we now focus our attention on the green space known as St. Anthony’s Garden, named for Anthony of Lisbon and Padua (1195-1231*), ‘finder of lost things’ and ‘protector of childless women,’ and located behind St. Louis Cathedral.

(*St. Anthony lived during the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris)

We feel responsible for this space not only because of our building’s proximity, but also because it sits at the heart of New Orleans, a city we adore and call home. In addition, it is the backdrop for dozens of artists who hang their work on the iron fence, continuing a New Orleans tradition keenly important to George Rodrigue.

Together with a committee headed by New Orleans resident Sarah Dunbar, we aim to restore this green space to plans sensitive to the garden’s diverse history, as laid out by French landscape architect Louis Benech (drawings below), who lead the restoration of the Tuilleries Gardens in Paris during the 1990s.

Benech’s plan uses native plants as well as “centuries of botanical exchanges between Louisiana and its settlers, among whom are the French, Spanish, English, German, Native Americans, West Indians, Africans, Irish and Italians,” ultimately celebrating the different ages of this unique site.

Furthermore, the garden’s restoration looks long-term, towards up-keep, security, and docents, so that the space becomes beautiful not only as viewed through the iron fence, but also up close and personal, open to the public.

With Mr. Benech’s completed plans in hand, our timing involves significant fund-raising this year, culminating in ‘La Fete du Jardin’ with Monsieur Benech in April 2012, when we cut the ribbon and begin the garden’s transformation. I’ll keep you updated with our progress throughout the year, including the launch of our website this spring, which I’ll post under “More Art and News” to the right of this essay.

Wendy

Suggested reading: Intimate Enemies: The Two Worlds of the Baroness de Pontalba by Christina Vella, 1997, Louisiana State University Press; Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau, 2004, University Press of Mississippi

Sprinkled throughout this post: variations of Flowers Bring Me Luck and Stardust Acres, original silkscreens from 1996 by George Rodrigue

For related Musings visit “For New Orleans” and “A Gallery of His Own

This week at Gambit’s Blog of New Orleans: Forty-Something: An Aged-out Princess and Festival Queen

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Motorcycles (The Blue Dog Hog)

Although not a rider himself, George Rodrigue relates to the seduction of the open road and the notion of freedom and Americana attached to motorcycles. Twice each year we cross the country in our truck, no books or computers allowed, so that we experience the West without distractions. We keep the music to a minimum, lost instead in discussions of mountains and detours, or more often riding in silence.

We visit roadside diners, leftover relics from the old Route 66, from the days when highways hugged the terrain. And we stop all too often for George’s road trip indulgence, a pineapple and coconut blizzard, paid for with the Dairy Queen gift card he keeps in his wallet, an annual present from our perceptive foundation staff.

(pictured, Fast Food in Utah, 2011, silkscreen edition of 135, 20x36 inches)

George’s interest in motorcycles began in the early 1960s when his cousin owned a Harley-Davidson in New Iberia, Louisiana.

“After crashing John Edward’s motorcycle two or three times,” he says, “I wasn’t excited about riding a bike anymore.”

It was in the late 1980s that George bought a bike of his own, a Harley-Davidson showpiece for his studio alongside Landry’s Restaurant in Henderson. Not long afterward Gerald Defez, who owned the property, commissioned a painting of his father, who rode a motorcycle as a member of Louisiana Governor Huey Long’s State Troopers.

By the early 1990s George abandoned his Henderson studio in favor of a camp on the Atchafalaya Basin in Butte la Rose. The Blue Dog, which he began in 1984, was now the main focus of his work. Without studio space for his motorcycle, he opted instead to make it a piece of art for display within an upcoming New York exhibition, followed by his New Orleans gallery.

The newly painted Blue Dog Hog premiered in 1994 at The Time is Always Now, a gallery in SOHO, where it stole the show on a raised platform in the middle of the large, warehouse-type space. George surrounded the bike with large canvases, most of which he painted in the driveway of his then-home in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Before painting the bike, he removed the front and back fenders as well as the tank, making the pieces easier to prime and paint. He reassembled the bike with significant additional chrome features, reducing its driving capabilities, something of no consequence since he intended a stationary sculpture for display, and not a means of transportation. As a final touch, he painted a matching helmet.

Following New York, the motorcycle became a popular French Quarter photo-op while on display in the Rodrigue Gallery of New Orleans until purchased by a Wisconsin collector of both Rodrigue paintings and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Recently the collector loaned the bike (now refigured for riding) for public exhibition at The Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee.

It was the Xerox Campaign of 2000 that inspired George’s most famous motorcycle image, A Faster Breed (above), used in magazine ads throughout the United States and Europe over a nine-month period. (See the post “Blue Dog 2000: The Year of Xerox”).

Thanks to a new silkscreen press, George created oversize prints beginning in 2002. Excited about the scale, he designed a complex combination of designs and colors for his first large silkcreen, The Rat Pack (25x50 inches, edition of 25)

He followed with an even larger print, Easy Riders, referencing the 1969 movie starring Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, as well as the patriotism inspired by his own cross-country drives. (32x50 inches, edition of 50)

For his latest motorcycle image, Fast Food in Utah (pictured at the top of this post), Rodrigue manipulated a photograph and compiled a photo-silkscreen collage.

“Photography has been a part of my creative process for a long time. As I look back over the last forty years, I realize that I have worked basically the same way the entire time. For my early Cajun paintings I photographed models, then used my photographs as sources, “arranging” the images within them in different ways in order to best portray whatever folktale was my subject.

“In this new print, I use the camera in a similar fashion. First I made hundreds of photographs of an area in Utah last summer. After studying and playing with these images for several months, I was ready to make a silkscreen print that incorporates the Blue Dog’s shape, fusing the two images together.

“With today’s technology, the computer has given me hundreds of variations with which to work – in an almost collage-type construction.” -G.R.

(pictured, André Rodrigue in Utah; photograph by George Rodrigue)

Because we favor a truck on our cross-country drives, George and I live vicariously through the motorcycle clubs we pass on the highway. Occasionally we detour through the Black Hills area of Deadwood and Sturgis (South Dakota) especially if our timing coincides with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, garnering fabulous photo opportunities and people-watching.

Although we just returned mid-January from a three-week trek, we’re talking already about this summer and the endless potential and inspiration of... the road.

Wendy

Pictured, George Rodrigue takes our nephews for a ride on his six-wheeler

For stories from our cross-country adventures, click the label phrase ‘American West’ below

This week at Gambit’s Blog of New Orleans: Forty-Something: An Aged-Out Princess and Festival Queen"

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Saving an Oak Tree (for Romain)

“Actually, I thought about a specific old friend before a specific old tree,”
said George Rodrigue when he found out about the 250-year old Youngsville Heritage Oak, destined for destruction next month to make room for a temporary road.

George’s connection to the small Louisiana town called Youngsville, near Lafayette, was his best friend Romain Fruge, who lived there near the end of his life. Originally from Arnaudville (like all Fruges), Romain was in the military, retired as a colonel, and worked for years in the space administration.

He told us stories of meeting Martin Luther King, Jr., flying across the world on missions for the President, and exploding large balloons in space. After retirement in the early 1980s, Romain returned to the Lafayette area, eventually purchasing a house in the community of Youngsville, settled by the Acadians in the early 1800s.

Romain traveled with George and later the two of us, exaggerating our adventures with his presence. He loved women of all shapes, ages, and sizes, introducing himself as the ‘Radiator of the Universe,’ a man whose favorite sound was the swish of silk lingerie moving between a woman’s thighs, and whose favorite area on a woman’s body was “that place between the bottom of the panty and the top of the stocking, known as the garter gap.”

Together Romain and George visited Morvant’s Bar & Grill, probably the most famous place in Youngsville, a hamburger joint established more than fifty years ago. They traveled the United States and Europe opening art exhibitions, and they hit the road every few weeks in George's blue van, delivering paintings to clients. They spent nearly every day together for close to twenty years.

(pictured, Ken Bode, Romain Fruge and George Rodrigue, mid 1980s, Lafayette, Louisiana; for more on George's friend Ken Bode see the post "Fairs and Festivals")

George speaks about his old friend:

“Romain was the first person I knew who really loved oak trees. After he bought the house in a Youngsville subdivision, he complained that they cut down too many trees. In response, he bought two five-year old live oaks from some nursery in Lafayette, planting one in his front yard and one in the back. It was important, he said, for the next generation of people that would live in his house.”

(pictured, George Rodrigue photographs the Youngsville Heritage Oak, 2011)

George and Romain established their history not only through art and friendship, but also through Flora Levy, Romain’s bank teller in Lafayette for many years. She inherited late in life a large estate from her two brothers, leaving all of the money and land upon her death to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (then called the University of Southwest Louisiana). During her later years she funded the Flora Levy Lecture series at USL, featuring such distinguished speakers as Walker Percy, Isaac Singer, and Bruno Bettelheim.

(pictured, portraits by George Rodrigue for the Flora Levy Lecture Series, 1980s; to see all ten portraits from this series, visit here)

As a last request before her death, Flora commissioned George to paint her portrait. The university, however, argued among its staff for years about placement, and so under bizarre circumstances it hung over Romain’s bed for more than a decade, until his death in 2002.

Today George avoids these sorts of conflicts and commissions. He painted the Youngsville Heritage Oak quickly, over about fifty hours this week, with a personal goal in mind. He’s on a mission, making prints of this painting to raise at least $250,000, with hopes that the city might move the road, cancel the road, or as a very last resort, move the tree.

(pictured, The Youngsville Heritage Oak, 2011, painting 30x40 inches; silkscreen print 26x34 inches; for a detailed development of Rodrigue’s oaks from the late 1960s to present, visit here)

“The city of Youngsville owns the tree. If this were my decision, the oak would stay exactly where it is, and the road would go around it. My goal is to stop them from making sawdust out of this magnificent monument to our Cajun heritage.

"This painting is typical of my classic oak tree style. I first started painting these trees in the late 1960s and early 1970s after returning from art school in California and realizing Louisiana’s unique culture and landscape compared to the rest of the country. I cut the shape of the oak off at the top of my canvas so that we see the sky from beneath the tree, just as one sees it while standing in the shade of the Youngsville Heritage Oak."

"The house in the painting stands today near this magnificent tree, and the horse and buggy (not as bygone as one might think) come from a photograph (above) I shot outside of a country store in the Fruge hometown of Arnaudville in 1967, when farmers in the area still used this form of transportation.” – G.R.

(Pictured above, George Rodrigue pleads with the public to help him save the Youngsville Oak)

I leave you with a short but sweet story about our friend Romain, who lived with us in Lafayette between 1997 and 1999. One evening around dinnertime he walked through the kitchen on his way out of the door, as he had every night since moving out of our house and to Youngsville a few months before. Still romantic and vain when it came to the ladies, he refused to wear his hearing aid, lest its appearance cramp his style.

“Romain,” I asked, “Do you want to stay for dinner? We’re having cannelloni.”

He looked at me sadly and replied,

“You’re right, Babe…I have been kinda lonely.”

Wendy

Learn more about saving the Youngsville Heritage Oak, and purchase the print featured in this post by visiting here

For the history of Rodrigue's paintings of oak trees from the late 1960s to present visit here

Read about Rodrigue’s award-winning entry from the Paris Salon and a scandalous painting by John Singer Sargent in this week’s Blog of New Orleans for Gambit

Also this week: "Steve Martin: Art Collector," From King Tut to An Object of Beauty

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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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