Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Daughters of André Chastant

Like ghosts of Evangeline, André Chastant’s daughters float brilliant in white and framed within the landscape of southwest Louisiana.  The painting, a combination of photograph and imagination, is my favorite from George Rodrigue’s Cajun period. 

These daughters are not posed around their father as though for a photograph.  Rather, they exist as one unit, a wave-like, footless, luminous shape encased by oak trees and bushes.  Lacking his daughters’ brilliance, their father stands barely noticeable, like a shadow among the shadow-less girls.

-click photo to enlarge-

(pictured, The Daughters of André Chastant, 1971 by George Rodrigue, 24x36 inches, oil on canvas)

The Daughters of André Chastant first appeared in print in the landmark book, The Cajuns of George Rodrigue (1976, Oxmoor House), the first book published nationally on the Cajun culture, also recommended by the National Endowment for the Arts to First Lady Rosalind Carter, who chose it as an official Gift of State during the Carter Administration.  Within, Rodrigue wrote in English and French about the painting: 

“Typical of Louisiana are men such as André Chastant whose life centered around his political campaigns.  Once when running for sheriff, he chose to emphasize the necessity of the Cajuns preserving their heritage by dressing his daughters up as early Acadians and sending them out into the parish on the campaign trail.”

I asked him years ago about this tale and received the answer I now expect:

“I made it up.”

The real story, however, is just as interesting, if not more so.  The original photograph includes his mother, Marie Courrege (second from left), and her friends gathered at a train depot in New Iberia, Louisiana in the 1920s.  They wore Evangeline costumes and sang for a visiting French dignitary following his speech from the back of a caboose. 

Rodrigue removed the girls from the train station, pasting them instead into a Louisiana landscape.  He cut the Frenchman from the train and inserted him within the design, renaming him Chastant, a key portrait within his Aioli Dinner of the same year, and imagining him as a father-figure to his mother and her friends.

Although the photograph inspiring this painting is lost, this type of tribute exists throughout twentieth century Cajun history.  The infamous Louisiana politician Dudley LeBlanc posed with Evangeline-clad young women in front of the White House in the 1950s, followed a decade later by President John F. Kennedy.

Rodrigue’s painting includes his typical oaks, cut off at the top so that the light shines from beneath.  The girls, trees, bushes and sky weave together in a deliberate pattern, locked without room for changes of any kind. 

Subtlety does exist, however, within this highly ordered work.  At first glance the painting appears black and white.  Yet Rodrigue insists,

“My palette during those years was as bright as my Blue Dog palette today.”

Indeed, a closer look reveals reds, blues and yellows, visible throughout the original painting, but most obvious in the photograph within the dresses and sky.  (Be sure and click the photo to enlarge).

Notice in the painting how the figures never touch the sky.  They exist only within the strong shapes of a Rodrigue landscape, their hard edges belying their ghostly aura.  Rodrigue is famous for saying that the Cajuns “glow with their culture.”  Like his fabricated story of the sheriff and his daughters, he uses subject, design and symbolism to create a suspension of disbelief.

In The Daughters of André Chastant, as with most of his Cajun paintings, Rodrigue crosses time and reality, questioning the importance of both.


-for more on Marie Rodrigue, see the story “The Artist’s Mother.”  For more paintings with Marie, see “The Class” and “Boudreaux in a Barrel”-

-although this is my favorite painting from Rodrigue’s Cajun period, my favorite painting of all time is a Blue Dog from 1991, linked here-

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-
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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Some Like It Hot

George Rodrigue’s newest artwork, Some Like It Hot, pays tribute to Marilyn Monroe, a golden icon of the silver screen and public fantasy.  He frames her with a bold design of color and shape, including his own icons, the Blue and Red Dogs.

(pictured, Some Like It Hot, 2012 by George Rodrigue, 26x40 inches, silkscreen edition 125; click photo to enlarge-)

Countless artists capture Marilyn in their own interpretations, made most famous in art by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and photographers Ben Stern and Douglas Kirkland.  For Rodrigue, who grew out of the Pop Art movement, the pairing with his Blue Dog is a natural.  Marilyn is one of the few subjects strong enough to hold its own against his invented image, joining its Red Dog counterpart in a design-battle with the screen goddess.

“We think we know movie stars as people,", explains Rodrigue, "but in real life they are someone else.  The camera loves their look, and as a result we as an audience interpret what they think.  We are seduced by their character. 
“The Blue Dog is similar.  You may look at it and think one thing, but deep down there’s always a mystery of why and what it is.

“These two classical icons together create an even greater mystery.  And to me, that’s the definition of art.”

As with many Marilyn fans, Rodrigue's fascination with her look and presence is enduring.  In 2004, on his 60th birthday, he insisted that his guests attend as Marilyn Monroe or Elvis “The King” Presley.  The party was a literal and visual blast as a sea of bobbing Elvis wigs mixed with platinum ‘dos on the dance floor.  A special fan within a small wooden stage blew dresses high over heads, and I mimicked “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” in my best breathy delivery.

(photograph by Tabitha Soren)

My mother, Mignon, had a definite Marilyn thing about her.  Even now her Marilyn Monroe dress, 1960, hangs in my closet and occasionally on my person, transporting me like magic into a slice of that sparkle, something I like to think exists to some extent within every woman…. as well as the occasional daring and beautiful man.

I recall as a child turning carefully the fragile pages of my mom’s Marilyn Monroe scrapbook.  During the 1950s she collected hundreds of photographs from LIFE Magazine, along with movie advertisements and snippets from gossip columns.  She noted Monroe’s clothing, travels, and dinner companions.  

This obsession rubbed off on my sister and me, not as crazed Monroe fans, but rather as devotees in our mother’s honor.  Upon her death, we searched frantically, without success, for the scrapbook.

(photograph by George Rodrigue)

For George Rodrigue, Marilyn Monroe is the first of a series of classic celebrity images, as he works even now on designs incorporating Humphrey Bogart and James Dean.  However, these fine art silkscreens, although stunning, are not his ultimate goal.  Rather, within weeks his 6-foot unique versions on chrome, similar to his series Swamp Dogs, will appear on the gallery walls.  

Imagine it.... Not since Warhol, “so much Marilyn….*” and Blue Dog… on metal!  I can’t wait!


*"so much Marilyn...." from the trailer for the movie Some Like It Hot, 1959

-a note from George Rodrigue:  "Sensitive to copyright issues, I looked carefully with my attorney into the use of old Hollywood images.  To my surprise, many movie studios in the late 1950s and early 1960s did not copyright their promotional images for films.  They were meant to be distributed widely as a way of increasing the celebrity's fame."

-for more information on the new Some Like It Hot artwork, silkscreen or chrome, contact Rodrigue Studio at this link-

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

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