Sunday, January 20, 2013

Blue Dog, The Book


“To find her you must lose her.  The Blue Dog knows the way.” –Blue Dog, 1994

In March of 1992 journalist Bridget O’Brian interviewed George Rodrigue for an article, front page, center column, in The Wall Street Journal. Although George had no control over the content, O’Brian allowed him one special request.  Without hesitating, he replied,
“Please say that I’m looking for a publisher.”

-click photo to enlarge-
On the day of “How Many Dogs Can Fetch Money?,” my Carmel, California home phone rang at 5:00 a.m. with the news.  Long before the internet, the Rodrigue Gallery phone continued ringing for a month.   At daybreak I purchased ten newspapers from the Carmel Drugstore, where two men asked for my autograph.  I was flabbergasted.
In addition to clients, reporters, and publishers, George received the one call he most wanted. The following week he flew to New York and met Roz Cole, Andy Warhol’s legendary book agent.
Mrs. Cole lined up several meetings, and the challenge began:
“What is a Blue Dog?” asked the publishers.  “Is this a children’s book?  Will people buy a book of Blue Dog paintings?”
I wasn’t in on those meetings, but after years of working with publishers I imagine what it was like. George grew frustrated defending his work and convincing the book world of his project’s marketability. 
Eventually, Viking Penguin committed to a Blue Dog book, and George and I committed, coincidentally, to each other.  This landed me, albeit peripherally, in my first publishing project.  We began at Viking’s offices in New York City in the fall of 1993. The book, Blue Dog, would feature Rodrigue’s paintings and an imaginary story by George and author Lawrence Freundlich.  In a large boardroom, a team of editors, art directors, and marketing strategists explained the book, a paperback retailing for $20. 
George sat dismayed and considered abandoning the project.  They still did not understand his work.  A cheap book only cheapened his art, and he had no interest. 
Suddenly, Peter Mayer, Penguin Books' near-mythic CEO, burst in the room.  In five minutes he transformed the paperback into a hard cover book with slipcase, hologram, and other special features, retailing for $50.  He congratulated George on his art, leaving the room as fast as he arrived, having altered permanently a project and attitudes. 

The book, with an innovative design by Alexander Isley, tells a touching story of Blue Dog, first as Tiffany living in George’s Lafayette studio and, following her death, her ghost’s cry for his attention.  In the fictitious tale, she haunts his dreams and eventually lives again through his art.
“When I had finally begun to paint Blue Dog alone in a world of her own kind, I sensed that Blue Dog was giving me my freedom --- freedom not so much to love but to accept love from the infinite bounty of a dog’s heart.  I might be her master, but to my own master I was only a servant.” –Blue Dog, 1994


(pictured, Tiffany Remembers the '70's, 1992, oil on canvas by George Rodrigue, 36x24)
Viking printed a cautious 5,000 copies of Blue Dog, released fall of 1994.  The book’s popularity surprised nearly everyone but George, and the publisher reprinted quickly, now topping 200,000 copies in five languages.  Blue Dog is a legend in the world of art books, something people still talk about when we visit New York.
Since Blue Dog, George published books and calendars with Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Harry N. Abrams, Sterling and Rizzoli.  He embraces these books as works of art, reflecting his on-going confidence in his vision and his enthusiasm for such projects.
With The Art of George Rodrigue (Harry N. Abrams, 2003; revised 2012) and George Rodrigue Prints:  A Catalogue RaisonnĂ© (Abrams, 2008), he experienced his proudest publishing achievements since The Cajuns of George Rodrigue (Oxmoor House, 1976), career retrospectives with critical texts by Art Historian Ginger Danto and Director Emeritus of the New Orleans Museum of Art, E. John Bullard.
Today, unlike the early Cajuns and Blue Dog years, the pressure’s off.  Rodrigue meets annually with Roz Cole and publishers, producing new projects according to his whims, including children’s books and wall calendars in recent years, as well as numerous collaborations in the form of loaned artwork for publications such as Ken Wells’ Rascal (Knopf, 2010), Deb Shriver's Stealing Magnolias (Glitterati, 2010) and In the Spirit of New Orleans (Assouline, 2012), the recent A Unique Slant of Light:  The Bicentennial History of Art in Louisiana (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2012), and....

.....I’m delighted to share, a Fall 2013 project for me with UL Press.
Stay tuned-
Wendy
-for Blue Dog's factual history, see the post, "Blue Dog:  In the Beginning, 1984-1989"-
-purchase Blue Dog and other Rodrigue titles here-
-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-


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4 comments:

  1. This is so exciting. I hope the publisher knows these blog posts are set in stone and flawless and absolutely cannot be changed by a single keystroke or the gods of words will rain down on Lafayette and forever make them afraid. Can't wait!!!

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  2. I loved this story. Wendy, your storytelling style is so vivid, I felt like I was in the room, rooting for the hardback verson and actually said "yeahh" when it happended. Thanks for making everything multidimensioned! George's story just keeps getting fuller and fuller!

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  3. Wendy & George,
    In December 2012 @ our company's annual Awards & Christmas Banquet, I was presented with an original print titled Los Angeles Rodrigue Exihibition, Bon Temp Roulee by George Rodrigue, 1988, for Highest Sales Award over 10 yrs, presented to me by the owners of my company. They purchased from an old friend of George from yrs ago in California,(their uncle) that says he received these posters from George or someone
    close to him. They had it beautifully framed and proudly hangs in our living room...So many people can't believe I was presented with one of his beautiful prints from 1988.
    Will one day purchase a Blue Dog painting to be able to hang in same room with George print. I admire his awesome work and hope to be able to visit your gallery soon. This print is my most prized possession in our home in Alexandria, LA
    sincerely,
    Elwood Marcotte, Jr.
    Alexandria, LA (Central Louisiana)

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    Replies
    1. Many thanks for sharing, Elwood. What a wonderful gift and memory. George and I are so pleased that his artwork is a treasure in your home.

      We are also quite fond of Alexandria and presented a wonderful event at your museum in 2011. Here's the link with details and photos (which you may have to copy and paste into your browser):

      http://www.wendyrodrigue.com/2011/06/blue-dogs-ghost-ranch-and-mrs.html

      Best regards,
      Wendy

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