Monday, April 29, 2013

Dance with Me, George!

“What do you do here?”

….asked George Jones of George Rodrigue at a Lafayette, Louisiana Mercedes dealership, as Jones shopped a new car and Rodrigue awaited repairs on his 1978 diesel station wagon.

“I’m an artist,” he replied. 

          “Oh yeah?” said Jones.  “What do you sing?”

Rodrigue recalls the country music legend on that day in 1983 as “a small, slightly built man with slicked-back hair and wearing a baby-blue jumpsuit."

"The minute he started talking, I recognized his voice.  I later learned that he moved to Lafayette to marry a local gal and live on a farm north of town.”

(pictured, Dance with Me Henry, 1989; oil on canvas by George Rodrigue; click photo to enlarge-)

The Arts cross over from music to dance, acting, and performance of all kinds.  In our house, the focus lies on the visual arts and writing; but all are forms of personal expression.  If one's lucky, one retains a voice like Jones or a style like Rodrigue, both distinctive and recognizable as theirs alone, something inseparable from not only their lives, but also their legacies.

In the painting above, Lennis Romero of the famous St. Martinville Romero Brothers, who performed for years beneath the Evangeline Oak, plays his accordion alongside Max Gregg, a Cajun storyteller and historian who ran a small Acadian Museum in the town.  A Port Arthur Texan, Jack Rains, dances with his Jolie Blonde at a Cajun fais do-do. 

On this one canvas, the Arts integrate in paint, music, dance, storytelling, legend and style, brought together by George Rodrigue’s imagination and the unfettered Cajun culture.

The title, Dance with Me Henry, comes from the song, also called Roll with Me Henry, made famous by Etta James in 1955. 

Dance with Me Henry is one of the first Rock & Roll songs I bought as a teenager,” recalls Rodrigue.  “My cousin Charmaine worked at the music store in New Iberia and picked out five 78-rpm records, including another favorite, Hearts Made of Stone by the Fontane Sisters. 
“I was in the 7th grade, and I listened to those records over and over again.  The songs stuck with me, and I later paid tribute to the music and the memories in my paintings.”

(pictured, Row with Me Henry, 1995; silkscreen by George Rodrigue)

Last weekend during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Arts blended easily when Billy Joel, pictured below, stopped in the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA) to play the Rodrigue Steinway, a 1913 piano donated and restored by Hall Piano Company and Steinway & Sons, and painted over three months last year by George Rodrigue.

Sponsored by and benefiting the LSU School of Music, this magnificent instrument mixes the musical and visual arts, reinforcing an important GRFA mission:  arts integration in education through Louisiana A+ Schools.

“I swirled music in paint along the sides,” explains George.

-click photo to enlarge-

Also recently, as we twirled in George's Carmel studio to Stevie Wonder, thanks to our tech-savvy son Jacques and the Pandora radio now piped throughout our house, George recalled another story from his youth, one that sent me running for my pen.

“I was too young to drive, but I could dance,” he explained, describing a party and dance contest for the boys at New Iberia’s Catholic High and the girls at Mount Carmel. 
“No one asked my cousin Cheryl to dance, so I did.”

Cheryl was great, I interjected, but she never struck me as an ‘I’ve got rhythm’ kinda gal.

“She wasn’t,” he continued, “but I had enough rhythm for both of us, and we won the contest!  Best of all, from the stage, as we accepted the trophy, I saw my parents watching through the window.”

George!, I exclaimed, imagining his conservative, aging parents, who so often seem disconnected in George’s memories from their only child and his art.  They were there the whole time?! 


That’s incredible!

“I know.  And until today, I never told anybody that story.  Now quit writing, and let's dance!”


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Monday, April 15, 2013

Looking for a Beach House

George Rodrigue’s first print of 2013 breaks new ground for the artist.  Partial to silkscreens for his Blue Dog designs, he ventures instead into complex lithography, channeling printmaking giants of the past.

“It’s the first print I’ve created for the gallery that’s truly an original lithograph made from twenty-two plates, printed on stone, in the same way prints were made from the beginning using copper plates or stone by artists like Rembrandt, Chagall and Dali.” –George Rodrigue

(pictured, Looking for a Beach House, 2013.  Lithograph by George Rodrigue; signed and remarqued edition of 90, 40x30 inches; click photo to enlarge-)

Rodrigue searched for years but failed to find this quality of printmaking within the United States.  He abandoned the idea long ago, assuming in this day of easy, mass-produced reproductions that these handmade stone lithographs no longer exist. 

However, in 2008 Heidi Barrett and John Schwartz of Amuse Bouche Winery, Napa Valley, contacted Rodrigue about a wine label, which they hoped to reproduce in France as a stone lithograph.  Intrigued by their genuine interest in the quality and originality of his designs, along with their similar commitment to their high quality, small-production winery, Rodrigue agreed to the project, painting Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, an image for their wine label and lithograph.

(pictured, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?  2008 by George Rodrigue, 40x30 inches for the 2006 vintage of Amuse Bouche, now sold out; the original painting remains in the private collection of Amuse Bouche Winery; the lithograph, like the wine, is sold out-)

Thanks to the introduction from the folks at Amuse Bouche, Rodrigue learned of a company in Paris, France still producing prints in the traditional manner.  As a result, five years later, Looking for a Beach House is his second true lithograph and his first offered to collectors exclusively through his gallery.

In addition, for the first time Rodrigue sketches a two-inch original remarque in the border of each of the ninety prints.

“The print’s so special,” says the artist, “that I felt compelled to add an original drawing to the mystique of each one.”

(pictured, George Rodrigue remarques each of the ninety prints within the Looking for a Beach House edition from his home in Carmel, California; April 2013; click photos to enlarge-)

“Unlike my silkscreens,” explains Rodrigue, “this print comes from an original painting.  I also worked with fifteen other artists and craftsmen to make this happen.  Each person specializes in a different field including separating the colors, etching the stone, and hand-printing the colors individually, layered one on top of the other, creating a continuous tone image similar to an original painting. 
“This is completely different from the lithographs of my early Cajun paintings, which were inexpensive four-color reproductions, poster style.”

The color of this print is unlike anything I’ve seen from George or, frankly, from anyone.  Once he understood the capabilities of this French printing company, he painted the work to best utilize the process.  The colors are rich and varied with an appearance similar to an oily and interminable chalk.

The paper is the highest grade rag content available today.  In layman’s terms, this means the texture is soft and pliable, manufactured to best absorb the lithography ink.  This is unlike the hard, almost cardboard-like silkscreen paper, designed so that the colors remain layered on top.

I asked George about the imagery, because I can’t help but see the umbrella as his oak tree, framing the dog, bucket and shovel.

“I went to the beach for the first time in 1957,” he reflects.  “I played in the sand beneath my parents’ umbrella, and I remember my mama envious of our friends who owned beach houses, while we stayed in a single room travel motel.  But I always felt lucky just to be at the beach.”

…so lucky, in fact, that he kept the original painting in our personal collection, hanging it within our home.

“This new beach print is the most beautiful printing job I’ve ever seen,” says Rodrigue, “and I’m already at work with the Paris folks on another project, due later this year.”


-Looking for a Beach House is available as a lithograph only; size 40x30 inches, edition of 90, each with an original remarque sketch by George Rodrigue; for availability and pricing, contact Rodrigue Studio-

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

America, Unexpected

Oftentimes I wince at the question, Where are you from?.  Unless the person asking lives somewhere between Houston and Atlanta, they probably associate Florida with Disney World and Miami Beach--- nice places, but not the Emerald Coast of my childhood.

I mumble to anyone who'll listen outside of the Gulf South that I’m sort of from southern Alabama, and occasionally I claim my parents’ hometown, New Orleans, always a risky fib, because any New Orleans local within earshot follows immediately with Where’d you go to school?

(pictured, one of several working-designs for Hollywood Stars by George Rodrigue; click photo to enlarge-)

I thought of these American stereotypes this week as George Rodrigue and I continued our annual cross-country drive.  To many, for example, Nevada is Las Vegas; yet to our amusement, a kind reader on facebook invited us to her hometown of Eureka, a rare slice of undoubtedly beloved civilization (est. 1864; current pop. 610) on the 400 miles of U.S. Route 50, also called, seriously, “The Loneliest Road in America.”

This long stretch is a straight shot into Reno, a city of bright lights and modern hotels that we reached one year, overjoyed, despite our love of the wide-open West, around 2:00 a.m., following eight hours with scarcely a pit stop.

(pictured, crossing from Nevada into California; click photo to enlarge-)

Although not part of this year’s plans, George and I drove The Loneliest Road several years ago, caravanning with our sons and their friends.  After more than an hour of long dips and ascents, passing neither car nor building, we encountered a dreadlock and tie-dye adorned man on a unicycle, a group mirage we confirmed immediately with phone calls between the trucks, and the source of endless entertainment still today as we discuss the why’s and how’s of such an undertaking.

California’s generalizations include Hollywood, surfers, garlic fields, fog and vineyards.  Yet for miles as we crossed the Mojave Desert, we studied the barren land of rocket landings, air bases, and test sites.

(pictured, thousands of mirrors catch the sun’s rays, sending energy towards a single tower in the desert, generating electricity; more info here; click photo to enlarge)

“There’s a lot of oddball stuff about California,” noted George.

As opposed to Louisiana?  I asked.

We're drawn to these infinitely wondrous states, home to wood rats and alligators, to Hollywood and Reality TV.  We also thought about Texas, comparing two of our favorite American roadways:  Route CA-46 between Bakersfield and Paso Robles, with its oil wells and orange trees, to U.S. 287 between Wichita Falls and Amarillo, with its grain silos and cotton fields.

But we’re in politically correct California! we exclaim from our 15-miles-to-the-gallon Louisiana truck, as we travel from the hometown of country music legends Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, passing hundreds of oil well pumping units wedged between rose bushes and sheep.

-click photos above and below to enlarge-

(pictured, Actor James Dean (1931-1955) died en route from Bakersfield to Paso Robles when his silver Porsche 550 Spyder collided with a truck; George Rodrigue photographed the memorial from our truck’s window as we passed the crash site at the same time of day, 5:59 p.m.)

During the past two weeks, George Rodrigue and I experienced “The Road” and “The Silent West.”  We revisited San Antonio and the Alamo, drank a German beer in Fredericksburg, enjoyed Native American dances and Todos Santos chocolates in Santa Fe, studied the stars in southern Utah, indulged and splurged in Las Vegas, explored the south central California desert and arrived late last night in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

-click photo to enlarge-

We’re here for a year, maybe two, as George commits to his studio without distractions.  Last night, happy in his second-favorite state, yet restless from the road, he sketched at his easel, pictured above.  When I asked him this morning about his thoughts, however, he spoke only of family, of his pride in his sons, and of his gratitude towards our gallery and foundation staff.

“It’s great spending time on the road knowing that we have a staff who carries on what we believe, even when we’re not there.”

He also spoke of his relief over his unexpected return to health, found just in time as his son Jacques, Director of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, announces his engagement to New Orleans artist Mallory Page Chastant, a match we should have expected years ago, because it was ordained, as the great-grandfathers of each raise a toast within George’s most famous Cajun painting, Aioli Dinner, painted in 1971, long before bride or groom were born.

Cheers to the unexpected!  Cheers to the American road!  And Cheers to the happy couple!


-pictured above, Jacques, Mallory, Wendy and George; House of Blues, Las Vegas, Nevada, April 2013-

-see George Rodrigue’s Aioli Dinner and read its history here; see the painting in person anytime at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, or join “Art of the Family Table,” a Summer Camp, detailed here-

-all photographs by George Rodrigue, April 2013

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Friday, April 5, 2013

The Silent West

“This cloud looks like a crawfish...” 

...whispered artist George Rodrigue from the back door of our desert hideaway, speaking the first words from either of us in hours.  Within this southern Utah escape we study the sharp edge of mountains against the bluest blue sky at day, their shadowed outline at dusk, and at night, the Milky Way, embellished, as though not already spellbinding, with shooting stars.

Something happens in the silence of the desert that restores.

-click photos throughout to enlarge-

We arrived here two days ago, following eleven hours in our truck from Santa Fe, including a three hour detour over the Grand Canyon, forced by a northern Arizona landslide just twenty miles from our destination.  Unfazed, we followed the meandering alternate, off-highway route, towards the setting sun, all the more beautiful because we explore without a schedule, unobligated for the first time in several years to arrive at a certain place at a certain time.

(pictured, Fast Food in Utah, silkscreen edition 135, 20x36 inches; click photo to enlarge-)

For George, as much a photographer as painter, the detour was a dream.

“The hardest thing to do,” said George Rodrigue as we reached the outskirts of Santa Fe, “is to capture in a new way what everyone else has done for the past one hundred years.  They were all here, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, drawn by the light, the scenery, the pueblos, the history and architecture….drawn by the color within and beyond the Land of Enchantment.”

(pictured, in Santa Fe, recalling Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, 1927; click photo to enlarge-)

Our longstanding rules of the road include silence, with little music or phone calls, no reading or texting (by driver or passenger), and no books on tape or other distractions.  During our early cross-country travels, some twenty years ago, we sang Jimmy Swaggart and Elvis Presley spirituals, belted out to tapes purchased at truck stops along the way.  That tradition morphed into Bill Mack’s radio show and classic country, until finally we chose quiet most of the route.

I wondered while on the road this week at our gradual retreat into silence.  For years we sang “Peace in the Valley” and “Ramblin’ Man” as though the world should hear our song; yet at some point the music stopped.

I think it happened with sadness--- for me, after losing my mom in 2004, and for George because I no longer sang with him.  The sadness deepened after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the loss of George’s mom in 2008.  And yet this road trip, following the hardest year we’ve known, we eased out the phrases, not with our earlier gusto, but little by little, as Jessi Colter and Conway Twitty reentered our journey.  It was only a few lines at a time, but we slowly rejoined the carefree.

We share the experience of the road so that neither of us misses anything, whether crawfish-shaped cloud or tumbleweed, immersed in the American West, so that years later we recall together the details of the light on a particular day or the unexpected snowfall on spring blossoms.  I watch George and imagine the concepts swirling in his head for paintings, his easel replaced currently with his camera.

We mute our phones and computers, we close the television in a closet, and we whisper over dinner, as we study the shape of the mountains against the sky. Broken only by the soft drums at sunset and the water running for a bath, we embrace, with inspiration and gratitude, the quiet gift of the American West.


-click photos throughout to enlarge; all photographs by George Rodrigue, 2013

-for availability and pricing of the silkscreen Fast Food in Utah, contact Rodrigue Studio-

-more from us on the road in the story, “America the Beautiful:  Crossing New Mexico and Arizona;" also, see the links under "Rodrigue on the Road," "Rodrigue and Texas," etc, to the right of this post-

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

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