Friday, September 28, 2012

Walker Percy, Sylvester Stallone and the Blue Dog

Update, 2/1/13- Due to the popularity of this exhibition, it is now extended through August 31, 2013.

During his forty-five year career, George Rodrigue has painted more than one hundred portraits, everything from his family to U.S. Presidents.  One series in particular, however, stands out as a select group of award-winning authors and scholars, painted for the Flora Levy Lecture Series at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette during the 1980s.

From October 1st to November 30th, 2012, nine of these portraits, including Walker Percy, Shirley Ann Grau and John Kennedy Toole, accompany a contemporary counterpart, a talent and image so strong that it holds its own among these literary giants.  The State Library of Louisiana boldly unveils for the first time George Rodrigue’s 6-foot portrait (2011) of his friend:  actor, writer, director and artist Sylvester Stallone.

-click photo to enlarge-

"I’m excited that after thirty years this collection of distinguished writers is on view. Since then I’ve painted numerous portraits but never a dedicated series such as this one, completed over the course of a decade. It was in 1984, in the middle of this series, that I painted the first Blue Dog
"Sylvester Stallone’s portrait represents to me pop culture today.  Stallone invented Rocky; Toole invented Ignatius J. Reilly;* and I invented the Blue Dog.  All three are icons, ingrained in the fabric of our cultural history, one on the screen, one on the page, and one on the canvas. 
"The early portraits represent classic literature, developing into pop culture through phenomena like The Moviegoer, All the King’s Men, and A Confederacy of Dunces.  Stallone’s contribution is a continuation of this tradition, combining a strong, iconic character with the medium of film.” -George Rodrigue

(pictured above, a selection of portraits from the Flora Levy Lecture Series; see the complete collection with histories at this link-)

Coinciding with this exhibition is the Louisiana Book Festival, now in its ninth year, free and open to the public with author lectures, book signings and workshops this October at the Louisiana State Capitol, the State Library of Louisiana, and surrounding grounds and buildings.

George and I look forward to this festival annually and participate this year with an afternoon of special events, most notably a personal tour with George Rodrigue of his portrait exhibition:

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

12:00 p.m. – 12:30 p.m.
State Library of Louisiana
Rodrigue Portrait Exhibition:  Walker Percy, Sylvester Stallone and the Blue Dog
“Exhibit Chat with George Rodrigue”

2:15 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
State Library, Seminar Center
“Painting the Blue Dog:  A Program for All Ages” featuring George and Wendy Rodrigue and the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts

3:15 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Tent
Book Signing with George Rodrigue**

4:15 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.
State Library, Capitol View Room
Presentation by Wendy Rodrigue
“The Art of Blogging, including Blue Dogs and Cajuns:  Musings of an Artist’s Wife

We hope to see you on October 27th for this special series of events, Rodrigue’s only scheduled public appearances this fall.  I also encourage you to visit the Louisiana Book Festival website and explore its featured authors and programming.  Some of our favorite participants include novelist Rick Bragg, cookbook author Marcelle Bienvenu and artist Lin Emery, noted for her kinetic sculpture installed within the reflective pool at the entrance to the New Orleans Museum of Art.

In addition, you’ll find both George and me in the audience (1:30 p.m., House Committee Room 3) when Ken Wells, author of the outstanding Meely LaBauve Series, joins Houma, Louisiana native Chris Cenac, Sr., M.D., F.A.C.S. for a discussion of Cenac’s lavish and well-researched illustrated history of Houma-Terrebonne, Eyes of an Eagle:  Jean-Pierre Cenac, Patriarch. 

(Note:  I was so surprised and impressed by Eyes of an Eagle that I contributed a related article for Gambit Weekly, "Dancing the Shrimp," linked here-)

Finally, during this 200th year of Louisiana's Statehood, I was honored to contribute a handful of essays to the momentous tome Unique Slant of Light:  The Bicentennial History of Art in Louisiana.  The 450 pages and color plates include 275 artists and essays, compiled and edited by Michael Sartisky, PhD and John R. Kemp of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, and J. Richard Gruber, PhD, Director Emeritus of The Ogden Museum of Southern Art. 

(pictured, Rodrigue’s Aioli Dinner, his best-known Cajun painting, appears within A Unique Slant of Light.  The original hangs on public view at The Ogden Museum of Southern Art.  Read the story behind this important painting here-)

At 3:15 p.m. you’ll find me running between Rodrigue’s book signing (Barnes & Noble tent) and Sartisky/Gruber’s discussion (House Committee Room 6) of the  history of Louisiana art.  Although the 2012 volume does not include the pop culture portrait of Sylvester Stallone, it does include Rodrigue’s Governor Earl K. Long and his Aioli Dinner (1971, above), a collection of portraits representing the rich cultural history of our state.

See you in Baton Rouge on October 27th ...

...and don’t forget:  Rocky, Percy and more on view at the State Library of Louisiana through November 30th 2012.


*for an Ignatius J. Reilly-inspired post from Musings of an Artist’s Wife, see “Lucky Dog,” linked here-

-for the personal story/account behind Rodrigue's painting of Walker Percy, visit here

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook or at Gambit Weekly-

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Blue Fall in Louisiana

“When they showed me my body, it was blue,” explained George Rodrigue to a friend this week.  “Nothing dark, no patches, they were all gone.”

I overheard him on the phone and my ears picked up, not because I hadn’t seen the scan, but because I hadn’t thought of his body as blue, and I rather liked this image of the Blue Dog Man.  Coincidentally, at that moment I turned the last pages of Christopher Moore’s Sacré Bleu,* a modern-day fairytale devoted to the color of western royalty and religion, tracing its source in paintings like Van Gogh’s Starry Night to a muse, a blue nude, who, with the help of The Colorman, sheds the irresistible hue from her body, bewitching artists with the precious color.

-click photo to enlarge-

(pictured, Three Dog Night, 1993, 36x48, oil and acrylic on canvas by George Rodrigue; more on the Red Dog here-)

Although today his undisputed favorite color, George Rodrigue barely touched the color blue in his early paintings, dark Louisiana landscapes and near black-and-white scenes of Cajun folk-life.  By the early 1980s blue appeared occasionally in the eyes or ribbons of Jolie Blonde.  And it was his 1984 painting of the loup-garou, a ghost dog set beneath a dark night sky, that eased the color, first as a blue-grey and then growing with intensity, into nearly every painting since.

“You cannot get a grip on blue.”  -Moore*

(pictured, Blue Fall in Louisiana, 2006, acrylic on canvas by George Rodrigue, 24x30 inches; click photo to enlarge-)

The intense blue of the Virgin Mary’s gown in early artworks such as the Limbourg Brother’s Belles Heures (1405, related story here-) originates with lapis lazuli, mined in the mountains of Afghanistan.  Difficult to obtain, its rarity intoxicated both artists and patrons for centuries, oftentimes the painting’s expense related directly to its blue requirements:

“The two Michelangelo (1475-1564) paintings…hang in the National Gallery in London to this day, but it’s likely that they remain unfinished because the painter was unable to obtain the ultramarine he needed and moved on to other commissions, or the patron refused to pay the high price of the color.” –Moore, Afterword*

Even today, blue, although no more expensive than other colors, remains precious and linked to the intangible.

(There is a painting I found among my mother’s things that I’d never seen before. It’s only two hands, painted in blue. It hangs in my closet, and sometimes I place my hands on hers and I think she’s there. From the post “Mignon’s Flowers,” linked here-)

Curious, I counted the tubes of blue within George Rodrigue’s paint drawers and discovered ten different manufactured shades with titles like cerulean, cobalt and ultramarine.  We spoke about the color and, although intrigued by its lofty history, the appeal for him lies in the richness of the hue, as opposed to the richness (as in rarity and price tag) of perception.

“There is a spiritual quality to blue, however,” he continues.  “The dark night sky affects my mood and my paintings, replacing the earthy greens and browns of my early works.  As I grow older, my mind expands.  I suspend reality on my canvas with greater confidence, exploring not just the trees and grass, but also the mysterious and the mystical.”

(pictured, an unfinished canvas on Rodrigue’s easel this week; click photo to enlarge-)

In my early twenties, while traveling alone, I fell to unconsciousness during a hike in the Austrian mountains.  I awoke in the snow on a steep incline, wedged against a tree.  On that black-blue night, I thought about my tiny place on this mountain, on this earth, and in this universe.  As my mind expanded into existentialism, I grew smaller and less important, losing all fear and not really caring whether or not I survived the night.

A brush with death spurs unlikely consequences.  This mountain experience, I have often thought, gave me the courage to take every leap since, a lesson George Rodrigue experienced and survived three times, first leading him to paint, then to the Blue Dog, and now to some wondrous unknown.

“This is one of the more unique pieces I’ve ever done…”

…explained George to his doctor, a philosopher as much as scientist, who near-cried along with us, as we discussed George’s astonishing test results.  Originally from Vietnam, the doctor shared his thoughts on karma and kindness, as they studied George’s artwork Together Again (above, from Bodies), a blue nude completed in 2005.

“I turned the figure blue and overlaid it with the Blue Dog, creating something else altogether.”

During this blue and beautiful fall, I’m sentimental and hopeful and I turn, as I have for years, to Aretha Sings the Blues and “This Bitter Earth” from 1964.


*Sacré Bleu, 2012 by Christopher Moore, William Morrow Publishing; a perfect and much-appreciated gift from Kathrerine Marquette, San Antonio, of the McKnay Museum, the first modern art museum in the state of Texas, and my favorite haunt while a student at Trinity University-

-For related posts, see “Blue Wendy” and "Modeling for George Rodrigue"

-Please join me October 10, 2012 in Destin, Florida, for a luncheon and lecture:  “Musings of an Artist’s Wife,” benefitting the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation and the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts; details here-

-for more art and discussion, join me on facebook or at Gambit Weekly-

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Harouni Paints Rodrigue

Recently artist David Harouni painted a portrait of George Rodrigue, a special request by mutual friends Kerry and Tiffa Boutte of New Orleans.  Known for his powerful painted Heads, usually his own, Harouni traces his life’s journey, the imprints of memory and experience, layering and scraping paint in a process both concealing and revealing.

Born in Iran and raised in Iran and Israel, Harouni belies the label “New Orleans artist.”  By his own admission he is a nomad, inspired within this city yet, like Rodrigue, called to paint works that, although rooted in reality, focus heavily on imagination and symbolism.  Both Harouni and Rodrigue embrace the idea as gospel.

“Through my brush,” explains Harouni, “I paint the emotions, the challenges, the adventures, the failures, the successes, the weaknesses, the fears, the pride and the enormous strength of a wanderer, an exile.”

-click photos to enlarge-

For me, after seeing George struggle with his health and spirit this summer, this painting represents his returning strength, as though Harouni scrapes away the broken body, revealing the warrior within.  George himself describes his recent experience as a “renaissance,” as life gives him a second chance, an eerily familiar feeling as he recalls his many months of seclusion while sick as a child with polio and again in the late 1980s with chemical hepatitis.

Although a portrait of Rodrigue, the painting is pure Harouni, the palimpsest* of his life and technique used to interpret another’s.  He paints the Blue Dog artist with deep, determined eyes, revealing his conviction and lack of fear in both his art and life. 

“My subjects are all in solitude,” says Harouni.  “They are not laughing, crying, sad or happy.  They just are.”

Harouni also paints Rodrigue like the great and powerful Oz, looking towards the future with an all-knowing, confident direction despite the isolation of his path.  In both Harouni’s painting and in reality, Rodrigue grows from a simple oak tree and makes it his own, expressing it in a way unlike any artist before him.

(pictured, Untitled Acrylic Landscape by George Rodrigue, 2009, 36x48 inches; more info here)

We hung Harouni’s Rodrigue in our Faubourg Marigny home this week, where it complements the Rodrigue Dogs, Indiana Numbers, and Slonem Butterflies in multiples throughout the room.  Since his earliest oak trees, Rodrigue gravitates towards strong, repeated imagery within both his art and collection.  This includes a number of Harouni heads, some giant kings, some small sculptures, featured prominently within our New Orleans house and George’s Carmel Studio.

(pictured, a grouping on our mantle, including a painted cast ‘box’ by Harouni; bronze and glass Heads by Harouni; Rodrigue’s Acadian Barnyard 1969; carved saints, 18th century; click photo to enlarge-)

Harouni’s golds and reds remind me of Rembrandt, particularly his late self-portraits of the 1660s.  Like Harouni and Rodrigue, Rembrandt was self-made, selling his work without agents and often without a commission or guaranteed sale.  He also experimented with other mediums, such as printmaking.  He embraced the self-portrait throughout his life, seducing the viewer with his eyes. 

(pictured, Self-portrait, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1661; click photo to enlarge)

With Rembrandt’s years came layers of understanding, and his timeless gaze challenges today as much as it did 350 years ago.  His paintings pose questions forever, even beyond the intent that prompted nearly 100 self-portraits

 Perhaps the same can be said of Harouni (above), who writes,

“The successful immigrant is one who makes a decision, takes a strong step towards a goal, and makes what seemed unreachable a reality. He does not mourn what he left behind; he does not occupy himself with what has passed. 
"He has faith in his strength and ability to overcome all obstacles in his path or at least has the courage to face them. He achieves fortitude through perseverance that renders daily obstacles meaningless to him.”

Rodrigue too, although native to America, can be described in this way, descended from an Acadian Saga, yet true to his ideas and focused, without hesitation, on his own direction in life and art.

(pictured, I Am an Artist, 2006, acrylic on linen by George Rodrigue)


*palimpsest, defined by Harouni:  “…to draw and erase over and over again, having diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface-"

-visit Harouni in his gallery at 933 Royal Street in the New Orleans French Quarter; on his website; or call (504)299-4393-

-a sincere thanks to Kerry and Tiffa Boutte of Mulate’s the Original Cajun Restaurant-

-pictured above:  David Harouni, Tiffa Boutte, George Rodrigue, and an original Harouni canvas, photographed by Daniel Erath of the Times-Picayune, March 28, 2012, at an evening benefiting the New Orleans Ballet Association-

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook or at Gambit Weekly-

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Acrylic Landscape

George Rodrigue, known worldwide for his Blue Dog canvases, began painting in 1968 not bright-colored dogs but near-black trees.  His devotion to the Louisiana landscape remains an anchor within his art throughout forty-five years of Cajuns, Portraits and Blue Dogs, most of which include the now recognized Rodrigue Oak.

His landscapes today, although rooted in those early dark canvases, reveal a mature artist, confident in his craft.  Some include the familiar deep greens and browns; however none are so dark as his earliest works.  And some paintings essentially interchange his subjects, so that the strong design and color of a tree might as well be that of a dog.  Such is the case with Rodrigue’s Acrylic Landscapes.

(pictured, Untitled, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 24x48 inches; click photo to enlarge-)

I’ve written often, especially this summer, about Rodrigue’s lifesaving, yet challenging shift from oil to acrylic paint, a change he made permanent in the early 1990s.  The Blue Dog works well in the fast-drying intense acrylic colors.  However, Rodrigue’s Landscapes pose a greater challenge without the ability to blend the pigment in his established painterly style.

(pictured, Landscape, 1970, oil on canvas, 8x5 feet; view a series of typical Rodrigue landscapes from 1968 to present at this link)

His use of acrylic paint forced Rodrigue in new directions within his art.  Even though the latest water-based oil paints allow him today a revisit of his early style, such as in the recent painting below, his years with acrylic paint and the hundreds of canvases since his first oak trees result in paintings affected by the knowledge and confidence of his age and experience, as well as a palette now firmly devoted to color.

(pictured, Low Tide, 2009, water-based oil on canvas, 15x30 inches)

In his landscapes, no matter what the year, Rodrigue adheres to the basic rules he established for himself in the late 1960s.  Rejecting the spacious sky of traditional European-style paintings, he pushes a large oak to the front of his canvas, cropping the top of the tree so that the light shines in the distance and from beneath the branches.  With its hard edge and strong shape, his oak stands like a symbol of both his state and culture.

In addition, he rejects specific locales, painting the Louisiana in his head as opposed to the one outside.  In this way his paintings, no matter what the year or series, express a sense of mystery regarding time, place and, above all, meaning.

His challenge lies in working within these self-imposed parameters while developing his style.  This is most obvious within the Acrylic Landscapes, where the basic rules apply, yet the paintings communicate a contemporary statement akin to Rodrigue’s Blue Dog canvases.  He achieves this not only through his use of color, but also by adopting a sketch-like treatment using heavy, unblended pigment and large, loose brushstrokes.

(pictured, Acrylic Landscapes, 2009, various sizes)

Because George is successful, it’s difficult sometimes for the rest of us to understand that he still experiments and grows within his art.  He returns to his Oak Tree repeatedly; however, like his long journey with the Blue Dog, his approach remains bound by his own evolution and interests.

“If it doesn’t make me happy, then I don’t paint it,” he says often.

It is this mindset that allows him to break with a certain style of painting without fearing the public’s reaction.

“The people who collect my early oaks won’t like these,” he noted…

…as he painted his first few Acrylic Landscapes, now a series of forty paintings, some with the Blue Dog and some without.

(pictured, Untitled, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 18x24 inches)

Yet George Rodrigue’s comment was not a lament or regret, but merely an observation, as he continues exploring with freedom, both within his mind and on his canvas.


-See Rodrigue’s Landscapes, both acrylic and oil, anytime at his galleries in New Orleans and Carmel; for information on availability and pricing email

-For more art and discussion, please join me at Gambit Weekly or on facebook-

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