In 1992 George Rodrigue painted Washington Blue Dog, a tribute to the United States of America’s capitol, Washington, DC. The painting is one of his most famous. Its prints hang in the offices of Blue Dog Democrats and their affiliates, an obvious choice for the group. The original oil on canvas (48x60 inches), owned by the Randy Haynie Family in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, appears often within museum exhibitions, thanks to Haynie’s generosity, most recently at the Rodrigue retrospective at the LSU Museum of Art (more info here).
The Blue Dog Democrat's link to his artwork was not Rodrigue’s intention, however. In fact, he’s made a concerted effort over the years to avoid any political connection within his art, excepting paintings such as No More Dukes (pictured here), painted in 1996 during former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke’s campaign for the U.S. Senate, and Throw Me Something F.E.M.A. (pictured here) following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, both works created out of his personal political frustration.
In addition, his paintings of U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were commissioned by their respective parties and had no connection to Rodrigue’s own political position, which he prefers remain private. This is also true of his Louisiana Governor portraits, including Huey Long, Earl Long, Edwin Edwards, Kathleen Blanco and Bobby Jindal.
Yet he battles the Blue Dog Democrat connection as though he founded the group himself. I asked George Rodrigue for the real story:
“A few years after I started painting the Blue Dog, a local politician in Lafayette asked me if I knew about the Blue Dog Democrats in Louisiana. I said “no,” and he recounted his version of the origin. We had no Republican party since the Civil War. All early Louisiana primaries were Democratic, but those included many factions, including New Orleans, Cajun country, North Louisiana and the African-American population. These groups were divided by ideology, some more conservative than others, but all within the Democratic Party.
"At some point, the more liberal side became Yellow Dog Democrats and the more conservative side, Blue Dog Democrats. When I first heard this story in the early 1990s, the Republican party had a foothold in Louisiana. The old terms were outdated. I wasn’t aware of the Blue Dog Democrats in modern times until U.S. Congressman Jimmy Hayes of Lafayette, Louisiana pushed this term once again to the forefront, renaming the ‘Boll Weevil’ Democrats the ‘Blue Dogs.’
“Without my permission they adopted my image. As usually happens with hometown folk, they assumed that they were doing me a favor. Instead I’ve spent the past twenty years trying to distance myself and my artwork from this connection.” - George Rodrigue
-pictured above, all Blue Dog Democrat members of the United States Congress, 1996 (click photo to enlarge). They gathered within Union Station, Washington DC, during Rodrigue’s “Blue Dog for President.” See related paintings from that all-American exhibition here-
-also this week, I hope you enjoy “Green Light,” my latest story for Gambit Weekly, featuring the drawings and fluorescent light bulb sculptures of Irish American artist Dan Flavin, linked here-