Thursday, June 27, 2013

Living in the Spotlight

“This world, he’d say, is where you live, right here you do whatever work you have to do.” –Darrell Bourque on Elemore Morgan, Jr.*

Some years ago I attended alone an opening at the Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans featuring the latest work from Acadiana’s beloved landscape artist, Elemore Morgan, Jr. (1931-2008).  I explored the exhibition unnoticed, struggling to see the art around the large crowd of Morgan fans and making a mental note to return the following week.  Out of nowhere, a hand touched my shoulder and, to my surprise, I stood face-to-face with the elegant artist.

(pictured, Oak Shape, 1983. Acrylic on Masonite by Elemore Madison Morgan, Jr.; collection The Ogden Museum of Southern Art)

“Tell George I have always admired him,” whispered Morgan, low in my ear, so that I could hear above the throngs awaiting his attention.  “More than any other artist, George Rodrigue inspired me and influenced my work.”

I hugged him, a man I had never met, and I left immediately, pausing on the sidewalk to note the exchange on the back of a grocery list, saved undisturbed in my keepsake box until this essay.  A block away, George Rodrigue waited in our car for my report of the artist's reception he feared, not wanting to risk the possibility that his appearance, for good or bad, might distract others from Morgan, his long-time friend.

(pictured, Living in the Spotlight, 2013.  Acrylic on canvas by George Rodrigue, 40x60 inches; on view at Rodrigue Studio, New Orleans; click photo to enlarge-)

“I first met Elemore Morgan in the mid-1970s,” recalls Rodrigue, “when we spoke about our art at a Lafayette Kiwanis Club Luncheon.  We both walked away appreciating each other and our unique approaches to Louisiana’s landscape.”

(pictured, Low Tide, 2009.  Oil on canvas by George Rodrigue, 20x30 inches; on view at Rodrigue Studio, New Orleans; click photo to enlarge-)

This past weekend the spotlight shined bright during The Music of New Orleans Jazz Masters, as Irvin Mayfield, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts organized an unprecedented event honoring the music of Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and James Black.

“I never thought until tonight to link the visual arts and the acoustic arts...” 

...noted friend Chris Cenac as we walked from the famous Joy Theater towards the famous Sazerac Bar on yet another incredible night in New Orleans.  Those of us fortunate enough to attend will never forget the highlights, shared here with a few quotes and photographs (click photos to enlarge)-

“At one point,” explained Irvin Mayfield, “Ed ‘Sweetbread’ Petersen lost his motivation within music.  It came back during one unexpectedly spot-on session. 
“Now, contrary to news reports,” he continued, as we prepared for perhaps the greatest performance of the year, “it was actually Ed ‘Sweetbread’ Petersen who broke the levees on August 29, 2005, as he played his saxophone with enough force and emotion to flood the city of New Orleans.”

(pictured, Ed “Sweetbread” Petersen shakes the historic Joy Theater to its foundation last Friday night; photo credit, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra)

“Irvin Mayfield,” said the great Ellis Marsalis about our uber-talented host, “broke new ground in New Orleans, because he pays great musicians to play great music.”

(pictured above, George Rodrigue, Ellis Marsalis, Wendy Rodrigue, Irvin Mayfield, June 2013)

(pictured above, the jazz icon Ellis Marsalis plays the Rodrigue Steinway with magical hands, Joy Theater, New Orleans, June 2013; photo credit,

(pictured above, George Rodrigue with the near-mythic Harold Battiste, whose presence caused a standing ovation worthy of a true living legend, Joy Theater, June 2013; photo credit,

As the evening ended, and even as I recall it while typing these words, I cried as these talented musicians honored my talented artist-husband.  Uncomfortable within their spotlight, he was visibly humbled by their applause, as we wrapped our minds around this magical night.

And me? I enjoy the spotlight when it involves others, such as my childhood ballet recitals and high school band performances and, in recent years, my joint lectures with George Rodrigue.  Alone, however, I’m miserable, particularly with regards to the video camera, a source of considerable anxiety as The Other Side of the Painting premieres with press events this fall. 

-click photo to enlarge-

Nevertheless, I model for George’s figurative works because the honor is greater than the embarrassment (okay, except when it comes to my dad), and because the alternative is worse:  a strange woman or women posing naked for my husband. 

Admittedly, I enjoy public speaking, not because it brings attention to me, but because it allows me to connect with folks face-to-face as I share the artwork and history of the man I most admire.  The personal exchanges within blogging and facebook produce similar highs.

Recently, George and I discussed our aging within the spotlight:

“While in my 20s,” I noted, as we recalled his early efforts to lessen gossip over our age gap, “you told everyone I was in my 30s.  In my 30s, you told everyone I was in my 40s.  But now, well into my 40s, you tell everyone I’m in my 20s!”

I then grumbled about vitamins, face peels, and exercise and how maybe I can pull it off occasionally in the dark,....... until George, age sixty-nine, interrupted.

“Not twenties, Wendy....

.... and he continued, quite seriously...



*from the poem “The Things Elemore Left Behind,” from the collection Megan’s Guitar and Other Poems from Acadie by Darrell Bourque, Univ. of La. at Lafayette Press, 2013

-with sincere thanks to the University of New Orleans, which produces and nurtures some of America’s greatest jazz musicians, including members of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, playing Wednesday nights at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta Hotel-

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Shiny Happy Blue Dog

“We mortals are but shadows and dust.” –Proximo, Gladiator

Recently, while shopping for skinny jeans and day-glo tees with my sister and cousin, I time-warped to the 1980s when flashy jewelry, exaggerated shoulders, and acrylic fingernails prevailed.  For a while, subtle feminine style seemed lost forever.

George Rodrigue has never been subtle, in his ideas, personal style, or on his canvas.  His earliest oak tree paintings drew criticism for their dramatic contrasts of light and dark, and he exaggerated a primitive look to his Cajun figures, emphasizing the unique culture of his ancestors over the established rules of art. 

The older he gets, the bolder he becomes, rejecting soft colors in favor of bright primaries and, recently, rejecting the flat white canvas in favor of a reflective sheet of silver metal.

-click photo to enlarge-

(pictured, George Rodrigue at his studio in Carmel, California, 2013; mixed medias on chrome are 48x32 inches-)

At first, I related this shift to George’s fondness for 1950s nostalgia, similar to my renewed interest in the 1980s.  One look at the shiny accents in the newly renovated New Orleans gallery, along with Rodrigue’s recent tribute to Marilyn Monroe, suggests that Happy Days are here again.

To my surprise, however, George relates the chrome not to the 1957 Cadillac Coupe DeVille, but rather solely to the visual, to the shiny nature of the substance.

“Several years ago,” he explains, “I painted around printed Blue Dogs on chrome paper, allowing the silver to show.  I created these for children’s hospitals in Texas, with the idea that patients would walk up to the dog and see themselves reflected alongside it.”

Today, that concept is part of “Art for Healing,” a program of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, installing similar works in hospitals in Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas. 

“My most vivid childhood memory,” recalls George, channeling the 1950s at last, “is of rows of kids in iron lungs in hospital wards.  I was lucky to fully recover from polio, but I still have that image in my mind.  I want children in today’s hospitals to remember something happy.”

Pleased with these large-scale works (7-10 feet), Rodrigue researched other materials, hoping to expand his use of the reflective surface.

“After creating the hospital pieces on mounted chrome paper," explains the artist, "I tried embellishing a dog on a real sheet of metal. Afterwards, I coated the metal three times with automotive sealer, enhancing the shine, so that the Blue Dog and additional hand-applied paint appear to be baked into the chrome.

“It reminds me of the old-time porcelain signs, the type I’ve collected for thirty-five years."

These newer works on metal are more shiny than mirrored, with colors so bright and intense that they don’t duplicate in photographs.  The computerized images shown here only suggest the actual works, now on view in Rodrigue’s galleries, where one sees hints of life reflected in the unpainted metal.

Unlike the mirror-like hospital pieces, these new works merely whisper surrounding color and movement, all subjugated to Rodrigue’s staring dog and strong design.

After silkscreening the dog on a metal sheet, Rodrigue uses heavy acrylic paint, spacing his design like a puzzle.  Unlike earlier, playful mixed medias on silkscreen paper, these new works are deliberate and structured, without drips or chance.  In the painting’s reflection, we, the viewers, are fleeting shadows around Rodrigue’s shiny, happy* Blue Dog world.

Similarly, although I recall my mom as 1980s fashionably flashy, with seashells, feathers, and crystals assembled (using a hot glue gun) on twisted ribbons around her neck, recently, while in the shower, I glanced by chance into George’s shaving mirror and, in my wet plainness, saw not my own face, but my mother’s, staring. 

My distinct features, such as they are, disappeared in the face of her intense ones.  Although near-blind without my glasses, I studied her clearly, my nose two-inches from the mirror, a shiny, happy, curious presence.  The water and tiles faded behind me, indiscernible as anything but shadows.


*the word ”happy," when used in this blog to describe the art of George Rodrigue, never means “whimsical”-

-see more chrome mixed medias at the new Rodrigue Studio Website-

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rodrigue Collaborates

When it comes to painting, George Rodrigue is a loner.  In recent months, he embraces full time the isolated setting of his Carmel Valley studio.  The limited interruptions and lack of social commitments on this quiet California hill settle the artist into a near-obsessed dedication to his canvas and ideas.  Ironically, however, it’s Louisiana that remains, always, on his mind.

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

Although partial to solitude in California, in Louisiana Rodrigue enjoys collaborative and unusual projects.  This includes the Blue Dog CafĂ© and Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro, both restaurant partnerships with Lafayette attorney Steve Santillo; large scale public sculptures for the New Orleans Museum of Art and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, constructed with Begneaud Manufacturing of Lafayette; and even Jolie Blonde Beer, a joint project with Pearl Brewing Company and Kerry Boutte of Mulate’s Cajun Restaurant.

(pictured, The Rodrigue Steinway and The Dukes of Dixieland at the Old U.S. Mint, New Orleans; click photo to enlarge-)

Perhaps his most exciting collaboration, however, is the Rodrigue Steinway, the result of partnerships with the LSU School of Music, Hall Piano Company in New Orleans, and Steinway & Sons.  Rodrigue spent three months in 2012 painting the piano, “swirling music around the sides,” says the artist. 

Piano-involved events assist LSU’s goal to become an official Steinway School.  Funds also support the education programs of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA), as well as other non-profits.  On June 21st, 2013, Rodrigue and the piano join musicians Irvin Mayfield and Ellis Marsalis at the historic and newly renovated Joy Theater for a special event benefiting the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.

-click photo to enlarge-

Rodrigue also enjoys collaborations with area museums.  For example, this summer the Ogden Museum of Southern Art joins the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA) July 8-12 for “Art of the Family Table,” one of seven 2013 GRFA Art Camps, this one focused on the history of Cajun food, as illustrated by Rodrigue’s iconic Aioli Dinner, now on view at the Ogden.

-click photo to enlarge; camp details here-

(pictured, Aioli Dinner, 1971 by George Rodrigue; more on this painting here-)

Other collaborations include small-production cameo glass bowls and vases with Pilgrim Glass of West Virginia, unique jewelry designs with Douglas Magnus in Santa Fe, and wine labels for Amuse Bouche and Pret a Boire, Napa Valley.

(pictured, George surprised me recently with a one-of-a-kind belt, a collaboration with Douglas Magnus of Santa Fe, New Mexico; click photo to enlarge-)

For the public, however, the most significant collaboration is the new George Rodrigue website.  GRFA Executive Director Jacques Rodrigue and our website designer/manager Heather Parker worked with Design the Planet, creating an exciting and accessible on-line world of Rodrigue history and art. 

Launched this week, the site was a year in the making and includes not only the latest technology, but also an extensive timeline spanning Rodrigue’s career in photographs and links from 1944 to 2013; the latest on Rodrigue exhibitions, lectures, and other news; and most important, the highest quality digital images of available artwork.

Presenting the new and improved….

Happy exploring!


-pictured above, the opening page of the new George Rodrigue website, featuring Sit in Your Own Chair, Rodrigue’s newest silkscreen print, now available through Rodrigue Studio-

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Footnote (He Stopped Loving Her Today)

In George Rodrigue’s latest painting, He Stopped Loving Her Today, Jolie Blonde’s hat sits alongside an above-ground tomb, the same type of vault his father installed in New Iberia, Louisiana as part of the family business.

“I wanted to paint a tribute to George Jones (1931-2013)," explains Rodrigue.  "I’ve loved this song for thirty years, and even though I’ve painted the Blue Dog before on tombs, this one is particularly special, because I reference the woman he loves.  Her hat is a remembrance alongside his grave.”

The painting, at 5x4 feet, is typical of Rodrigue’s long-established style.  An oak tree, sliced by the top of the canvas, frames a sky of interesting shapes.  The Blue Dog, like Rodrigue’s Cajun figures, appears cut out and pasted onto the Louisiana landscape, so that every element is deliberate, locked in and unable to move. 

-click photos throughout to enlarge-

Behind the tree, a river, which could also be a road, leads to a small, Heaven-like horizon, the hope of a displaced people in Rodrigue’s Cajun paintings, and perhaps another kind of hope in this contemporary expression. 

He kept her picture on his wall
Went half crazy now and then
He still loved her through it all
Hoping she’d come back again

(words and music by Bobby Braddock)
Obsessed with this idea since Jones’s death, George Rodrigue painted on this canvas for more than a week, never leaving the house and hardly sleeping.  Realizing he hadn’t come to bed, I found him, at daybreak on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, hanging the wet painting in our living room.

“Good idea,” I said, as he removed the large-scale copy of We Will Rise Again, after seven years on our wall.  “That Katrina piece is too sad.”
“Yeah,” he noted. “This tomb with the cross on it is much better.”

I’ve modeled as Jolie Blonde for twenty years on George’s canvas, suggesting in this painting several personal footnotes.

For example, recently, after watching the movie Hemingway & Gellhorn, I recalled a question that I first asked myself when I started this blog nearly four years and 1,000 pages ago:

Does it lessen my accomplishment because I write about my husband?

I don’t have the confidence of a Martha Gellhorn who, putting aside the fact that she immersed herself bravely amidst the victims of war while I live safely within an artist’s studio, refused to write or speak of husband Ernest Hemingway, with the exception of one famous query,

“Why should I be a footnote to someone else’s life?”

George and I discussed or, rather, he endured my explanation, as much to myself as to him, as to why I live happily as a footnote.

"Unlike Gellhorn," I explained, "I signed up for this."

As we stared at his new painting, now hanging permanently in our living space, he countered,

“The difference with us, Wendy, is that we put our feelings for each other above everything else, even our personal ambitions.”

Heavenly dayDid I hear him correctly?

“Say that again...” 

...whispered the artist’s wife, as he returned to his computer, designing the promotional poster for my book.

I don’t want to be a Leonardo, I thought, smiling at the irony of my life’s situation as I recall the line that's haunted me since college.  I want to be myself.*


*Lucy Honeychurch, speaking to her fiancĂ©, Cecil Vyse, in the 1986 movie from E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel, A Room With a View-

-the original painting, He Stopped Loving Her Today, remains within George Rodrigue’s personal collection; however, he is working on a silkscreen edition, as well as a small number of large-scale chrome pieces based on this work; for details, contact Rodrigue Studio-

-photo updated 7/13/13 with silkscreen print-

-for a related story, see the post "Dance with Me, George"-

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