“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-
-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-