Friday, November 23, 2012

Blue Dog Oak (Old Friends)

Update August 9, 2013:  George Rodrigue (pictured below) inspects the proof for his new hand-pulled stone lithograph based on Blue Dog Oak, printing now in Paris, France.  For purchase details, contact Rodrigue Studio.  

For more on this process, see the post, "Looking for a Beach House," describing another print made in this way.

George Rodrigue’s newest painting, Blue Dog Oak, reunites his favorite subjects in acrylic colors blended adeptly, as though oils.  Unlike his dark oaks of the early 1970s, Rodrigue’s trees today glow with intense hues; yet the rules remain as the hard edges and almost puzzle-like structure control his composition.

-click photo to enlarge-

(pictured, Blue Dog Oak, 2012 by George Rodrigue, 24x36 inches, acrylic on canvas)

The Blue Dog stands framed, surrounded by a pattern of sky and shadowed ground, the stylized fur beneath its ears echoing the oak’s pointed moss.  Without negative spaces, the painting’s structure defies reality.  The spaces between the branches create interesting shapes, clearly a self-imposed challenge for the artist.

(pictured, Rodrigue at his easel, November 2012, New Orleans)

Rodrigue paints the dog as though it’s a Cajun person.  Glowing in blue rather than white, it stands strong with the tree.  For Rodrigue, the tree and dog represent his best friends in art, the shapes he made his own.  Over the years, they grow and change on his canvas just as he does in life. 

As with his paintings of Cajun folk life, the light shines from beneath the tree.  For the Cajuns, this represents their hope, a longing to make a home for themselves in the swamps of southwest Louisiana following their deportment from Nova Scotia in 1755.

In recent paintings, however, Rodrigue paints the light not with the hope of the Cajun people, but rather with a general hope, a brighter future for all, as represented by the now omnipresent Blue Dog.

“People often ask me,” says Rodrigue, ‘Are you still painting oak trees?,’ and I reply, ‘Only when I want to.’  When I paint them today, it’s like visiting an old friend.  As with real friends, this reunion gives me pleasure.”

In Blue Dog Oak, Rodrigue reunites his established subjects on canvas, comfortable with their shapes and symbolism yet challenged, always, to create something unique, if not in subject, then in design and impression, as he seeks a finished painting titillating to his eye.

While exploring new directions in mixed media and chrome, it is Rodrigue’s old friends, the Oak Tree and Blue Dog, which propel him forward even as they, like Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart, connect him to the past.


-pictured above, Marilyn Monroe and other stars, unique large-scale works on chrome, part of Rodrigue's Hollywood Stars-

-for a related post, see “Sunshine and Love:  New Paintings”-

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-
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Monday, November 19, 2012

Yoga: One Essay Only

“Yoga relaxes me,” says George Rodrigue.  “The minute Wendy starts her practice, I fall asleep.”

Recently a friend asked me why I never blog about yoga.  For fifteen years the practice infiltrates every part of my life, assisting me with decisions, anxiety, injuries, and relationships.

I promise, George, that if I attend this silent retreat, I’ll return a better wife, I explain annually prior to a week-long journey into mindfulness, without speech, eye contact or computers.

Trepidation keeps me from writing about yoga, the same concerns I feel in writing about modeling for George.  To me, most yoga books and essays reek of self-importance, the ironic result behind a compassionate intent.

-click photo to enlarge-

(pictured, our nephew William practices yoga last week in Tallahassee, Florida as part of his BMX training; notice George Rodrigue’s silkscreen on the right, My Future’s So Bright I’ve Gotta Wear Shades, 1993; on the left is my mother’s painting, Spring Bouquet, the basis for George Rodrigue’s Mignon’s Flowers, pictured below and detailed here-)

“Yoga,” explains George Rodrigue, who abides my practice without practicing himself, “is obviously a very disciplined activity, something between a sport and a meditation, depending on how you approach it.  It’s similar to painting where one keeps a serious concentration, dedication, and relationship to the art.  Both are exercises in discipline.”

I began a yoga practice during our first year of marriage.  It was my saving grace in dealing with a strong-willed mother-in-law who lived with us in Lafayette, Louisiana.  As I morphed quickly into someone I disliked, I embraced yoga, hoping to approach the people in my home and community with a kinder attitude.  For one hour each day I closed myself into the spare bedroom and repeated the same beginner’s tape:

“Relax your forehead...” 

...instructed yogi Alan Finger as I melted into Shavasana, or ‘Corpse Pose,’ following the active postures.  After ten months of this same instruction, I realized with surprise that my forehead, joining the rest of me, was relaxed already.

“Feel yourself undefended, wide open like the sky...” 

...suggests Erich Schiffmann in tape number two.  It was during this time that I experienced my first retreat, a week in the woods near Helena, Montana, attending daily classes and lectures by Schiffmann, embracing his mantra and “moving into stillness.”

(pictured, from the series Swamp Dogs by George Rodrigue-)

From the beginning, I practiced without my glasses.  Unable to focus on details in the room, my mind turns inward.  For me, the challenges of yoga lie not within a full straddle splits or headstand (neither of which are part of my practice), but rather in facing my internal world without distractions.

This summer, after fifteen years of daily practice, I spent three months without yoga.  

For years I’ve practiced on the road, even during marathon national book tours with George, sometimes traveling to twenty cities in a month.   I spread my travel mat on well-trodden hotel-room carpets, quieting my mind before the happy chaos of crowds ---Rodrigue fans with dedications, collectors with questions, children with their own Blue Dog paintings.  Yoga keeps me grounded on these travels.  Strengthened by my practice, I greet strangers as friends.

“At least you have yoga!” 

...said my friends this summer as George and I lived between a Houston hotel room and hospital fighting his illness. 

Yet, during the time I most needed it, I couldn’t practice.  In the silence, the reality of our situation smothered me.  Each time I practiced, I fought against my emotions, and, for better or worse, I won.

(above:  the ‘fuzz’ also won, despite the dangers…)

Since returning to New Orleans in August, I embrace again a daily yoga practice, just as George again embraces painting.  It was difficult and frustrating battling my closed mind and body, and the first two months included only the gentle pull of Yin (long slow stretches) until I felt the call to move.  Through DVD, I turn to my current instructors, Sarah and Ty Powers of Marin County, California, and covet their wisdom as I intensify my home practice.

(pictured, with Sarah and Ty Powers in the Jean Lafitte Historic National Park and Preserve, January 2012)

I cultivate this re-entry into yoga with a ‘beginner’s mind.’ Past the frustration, I’m thankful for this opportunity to approach my practice anew, adding Yang asana (stronger, flowing postures) to the Yin and, cautiously, meditation to both.  Once again, I cling to a mantra, this one shared with Sarah by her teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, and with her students by Sarah, and now with you:

“Let be in equanimity.”


-in New Orleans, I also recommend Amanda Rubenstein-Stern at Wild Lotus Yoga-

-for more art and discussion, join me on facebook-

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Cajun in Carmel

Blue Dog artist George Rodrigue finds inspiration on the Monterey Peninsula-

It was twenty-two years ago that artist George Rodrigue (b. 1944) opened his gallery in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  One of only two locations* in the country, the artist-owned Rodrigue Studio operates the same way today as it did years ago.  Despite Rodrigue’s increasing fame, he resists mass production and wholesaling, offering his works only through his galleries in Carmel and New Orleans (opened 1989).  The original paintings and silkscreens ship worldwide from these locations, each piece created by Rodrigue’s own hand.

In 2000, Rodrigue and his wife Wendy purchased a home in Mid-Valley, just inland of Carmel-by-the-Sea’s coastal fog.  Since that time, although he lives also in New Orleans, Louisiana, he paints ninety percent of his work amidst the sunshine and rolling hills of central California, an area close to his heart since his school days at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s.

(pictured, George Rodrigue at his easel, Carmel, California, 2010; click photo to enlarge-)

Born and raised in New Iberia, Louisiana, this Cajun first made a name for himself as a landscape and portrait artist.  Since 1969 his paintings of the Cajun culture, including posters for events such as the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival and Lafayette Mardi Gras, as well as five Louisiana Governor portraits including Kathleen Blanco and Bobby Jindal, and myths such as Evangeline and the loup-garou, endeared Rodrigue to south Louisiana residents long before a Blue Dog catapulted him to world-wide fame in the early 1990s.

(pictured, The Kingfish:  Governor Huey Long by George Rodrigue, 1980, 60x36 inches; click photo to enlarge)

It was such a Cajun story, in fact, the loup-garou, that inspired the Blue Dog.  As a boy, Rodrigue’s mother used the legend like the bogie man, threatening,

“If you’re not good today, the loup-garou will eat you tonight!”

Rodrigue first painted this werewolf-like ghost dog in 1984 for a book of Louisiana ghost stories.  He used photographs of his dog Tiffany, who had already died, immortalizing her in shape and design not as a family pet, but rather as a Cajun-French legend said to lurk in cemeteries and sugarcane fields.

(pictured, Watchdog is the first Blue Dog painting, 1984, oil on canvas by George Rodrigue, 40x30 inches)

The strong image appealed to Rodrigue, and over time he changed the dog into a tighter shape, bluer color, and friendlier presence.  The early paintings’ red eyes turned yellow, and the grey-blue shade, first inspired by a blue moon and dark night sky, gradually became bolder and even electric, leaving little reminder of the Blue Dog’s ghoulish beginnings.

(pictured, Rodrigue at his easel, Carmel-by-the-Sea; click photo to enlarge-)

It was in Carmel that Rodrigue painted God Bless America on the night of September 11th 2001, raising $500,000 for the American Red Cross.  He painted his Hurricanes in California long before Hurricane Katrina ravaged his home state.  Selections from the seventy abstract round canvases swirl across the walls of museums nationwide, painted on the Monterey Peninsula yet symbolizing Mother Nature’s power as fed by the Gulf of Mexico and familiar to Rodrigue firsthand throughout his life.

(pictured, Lili, 2002, water-based oil on canvas by George Rodrigue, 36 inch diameter)

It was also in Carmel that Rodrigue conceived of and painted Bodies, a series of figurative works blending his love of the classical nude, the mystique of Louisiana’s aboveground cemeteries, and the symbolism of his own creation, the Blue Dog.

(pictured, Green with Envy, 2005 by George Rodrigue)

In 2013, for the first time in a decade, George Rodrigue devotes one year to working exclusively in California.  This commitment includes a major Rodrigue museum exhibition at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, as well as an ambitious partnership between the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts and the Arts Council for Monterey County, sharing art with thousands of central California students through painting demonstrations, lectures and school visits.

“For years I’ve given back to my home state of Louisiana,” says Rodrigue, “but California has given me just as much, and in 2013 I hope to return the favor.”


*Rodrigue also has a small location open by appointment in Lafayette, Louisiana

-note:  this post is from an upcoming article within De LUXE Carmel Magazine; for a related story see "A Cajun in California," linked here-

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-
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