“I dropped the Cajun influence, just painting a Blue Dog, and I wondered, What does that mean?” –George Rodrigue
It was the painting Loup-garou of 1991 that altered the Blue Dog concept for George Rodrigue, as he abandoned his oak trees and Cajun figures for the first time since the late 1960s. Although he painted the Blue Dog initially seven years before, the early works incorporated his new subject into Louisiana backgrounds so that the dog appeared as a Cajun person, trapped within the symbols associated with both Rodrigue and his home state.
In Loup-garou he leapt, painting the Blue Dog on its own, six feet tall and abstract (pictured here). The commanding imagery transcends both the Cajun-French myth and the animal known as ‘dog,’ becoming something else, vague yet powerful. Rodrigue recognized immediately that the painting was his, even without his typical oaks and Cajuns.
“The Blue Dog takes me anywhere,” he asserted in 1991 for the first time and in countless interviews since. “I can paint it on the far side of the moon!”
(pictured, Home on the Moon, 1991, oil on canvas, one of the few Blue Dog paintings ever reproduced as a lithograph; click photo to enlarge-)
This leap occurred as much within George’s mind as it did on his canvas.
“You really have to look at yourself and say I wanna do this for me; because if you try to do it for an audience, you’re never going to amount to anything.”
It was in his silkscreens that Rodrigue took his greatest risk, abandoning not only the oak tree, but also brushstroke and blending, in favor of simplicity and clean lines.
In his first attempts, such as Dogs in Space (above, 1990, edition 25, 33x25 inches), he struggled with registrations and damages to such a degree that, rather than pull the prints again, he hand-painted the eyes with yellow pigment. (For more on this see the post, “Land-locked Pirogues and Blue Dog’s Eyes.”)
Later, he not only painted the dog with planets and in space, he envisioned it in space, as a work of art, traveling beyond Earth’s atmosphere, a project realized when the crew of Space Shuttle Endeavour carried his artwork Life’s a Blast onto their last mission, the painting altered in size and materials so that it safely adhered to the inner wall of the shuttle.
(pictured, Life’s a Blast, a painting originally conceived by Rodrigue as part of the Xerox Collection in 2000, on view through October 14, 2012 at the Amarillo Museum of Art; click photo to enlarge-)
Upon their return, the Endeavour astronauts presented the collage above to President George W. Bush.
“Celebrating the much-acclaimed works of Cajun artist George Rodrigue, this Blue Dog space theme artwork was flown aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station during mission STS-126. November 14-30, 2008, traveling 6.6 million miles in 251 orbits of the Earth.”
(pictured, Space Chair, 1992, an original silkscreen by George Rodrigue, edition 90, 34x24 inches)
Despite his space and spatial exploration, Rodrigue never truly abandoned the oak tree or the Cajuns. Following his initial burst of freedom, he incorporated his Evangelines and Jolie Blondes into his Blue Dog works. For Rodrigue, despite humorous titles and outward perceptions, this was serious, as he approached on his canvas concepts of shape, design and color.
(pictured, Does Mars Have Oak Trees? 1993, acrylic on canvas by George Rodrigue, 10-ft across; click photo to enlarge-)
This notion of space extends beyond Rodrigue’s canvas and into reality, including his physical space, transporting him from a small Lafayette gallery in 1989 to New Orleans’ famous Royal Street and hundreds of visitors a day. (related post here-)
It’s no wonder that this summer, while trapped for weeks within a small Houston, Texas hotel room with nothing but his imagination and his computer, the universe and outer space lured him again.
“I’ve got an idea,” he explained, “to place the dog between the moon and Earth, but on chrome --- and huge!”
(pictured, Two Different Worlds, one of several artworks in progress, 8ft across, silkscreen ink and hi-gloss varnish on chrome)
He worked at his computer, vacillating between simple and complex, transposing his world from a narrow reality to endless possibilities, from his brain to his screen and, this month, from his screen to a chrome surface and the gallery wall.
Researching his inspiration, I asked George Rodrigue about this fascination with space. He recalled his childhood, midnights on the roof of his New Iberia home, staring at the stars through his first purchase, a telescope, paid for from sales to high school classmates of hand-painted monsters on t-shirts.
But more, he discussed the concept of art itself and the personal focus that grounds him in reality even as he soars within his mind.
-above, a 2012 video clip from PBS’s "Made in New Orleans"