Friday, September 27, 2013

Louisiana’s Natural Beauty: An Art Contest with the Audubon Institute

The George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA) announces its fifth annual Art Contest, a partnership with the Audubon Nature Institute.  This statewide opportunity for scholarships and other awards benefits Louisiana’s high school juniors and seniors, all eligible for entry, regardless of grades or college plans. 

“As a student at Catholic High School in New Iberia,” explains George Rodrigue, “I was never the best academically.  But I created art, and I had original ideas.  At the time, there were no art classes in school.  In fact, I was thrown out of class many times for drawing!”

-click photo to enlarge-

(pictured, Blue Dogs and Cajuns on the River, 2011 by George Rodrigue; story here-)

Yet Rodrigue went on to study art at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette, followed by the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles.  For forty-five years he’s made a living with his paintings, beginning with his dark landscapes of the late 1960s.  Through his foundation and its scholarship contest, he shares this success with Louisiana’s students, focusing this year on the same subject that launched his career.

(pictured:  Rodrigue still paints Louisiana Landscapes, such as Low Tide, 2009, 15x30 inches; click photo to enlarge-)

Louisiana’s landscape is a natural wonder defined by waterways, animals and plant-life.  Throughout the state, oaks, cypress, magnolias and other varieties shade country roads, swampland and neighborhoods.  Azaleas, irises, and water lilies add bursts of color in parks and alongside bayous, home to alligators, snakes, and hundreds of species of fish, frogs and insects.

(pictured, Atchafalaya Basin Squaw, 1984 by George Rodrigue; click photo to enlarge-)

Within Louisiana’s history and folklore, trees protected early settlers, including Native Americans at Poverty Point and, centuries later, Cajuns along the Bayou Teche, from sun and rain. Longfellow’s Evangeline waited for her Gabriel beneath a famous oak in St. Martinville, Louisiana. 

(pictured, Evangeline on the Azalea Trail, circa 1975 by George Rodrigue; click photo to enlarge-)

Politicians, such as Governors Huey Long and Earl Long, campaigned for office beneath similar trees in Baton Rouge and Shreveport.  And artist George Rodrigue returned home to Louisiana following art school in California to paint the oaks and coulees of New Iberia and Lafayette.

(pictured, George Rodrigue, 1971, Lafayette, Louisiana; click photo to enlarge-)

For early settlers, moss from live oaks and cypress trees filled mattresses, while the wood became houses, boats and furniture.  Since the beginning, the trees are home to Louisiana’s distinctive insects, birds and other wildlife.

(pictured, The First Cajuns, from George Rodrigue's Saga of the Acadians, 1984-1989; click photo to enlarge-)

Located within New Orleans, Louisiana’s Audubon Park best represents this history. Once a sugar plantation and Civil War site, the park boasts a wide range of plant life and animals, as well as trees more than 100 years old, including the de BorĂ© Oak of 1740.

Named for the great wildlife artist and naturalist, John James Audubon (1785-1851), who painted many of his famous images of birds while living in Louisiana’s West Feliciana Parish, Audubon Park became the preserved green space we know today through the work of John Charles Olmsted (1852-1920), whose family firm also developed New York’s Central Park.

(pictured, an early photo of Audubon Park-)

Upon his arrival in St. Francisville, Louisiana in 1821, John James Audubon admired the area’s natural beauty.  He wrote,

“The rich magnolias covered with fragrant blossoms, the holly, the beech, the tall yellow poplar, the hilly ground and even the red clay, all excited my admiration.”

Without city funding, Audubon Park depends on proceeds from other Audubon facilities, including the zoo, aquarium and insectarium.  To protect the park long term, the Audubon Nature Institute established Olmsted Renewed, a fundraising campaign that “supports the care and preservation of existing trees; the planting of new trees and other natural landscaping; and the maintenance of existing structures throughout the Park.” (from the Audubon Institute website)

(pictured, City Park, New Orleans, circa 1989 by George Rodrigue; click photo to enlarge-)

The George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts and the Audubon Institute invite this year’s applicants to explore Louisiana’s Natural Beauty.  The artistic approach can be historical, contemporary, or imaginary in its conception, with interpretations ranging from a traditional Louisiana landscape to an exploration of indigenous plant and animal life, or even a fanciful tableau. 

(pictured, George Rodrigue, photographed September 2013 with Creatures, a one-of-a-kind artwork on metal from his private collection, blending a typical Rodrigue-style Louisiana oak tree with his loup-garou-based Blue Dog and his favorite movie-monster, Creature from the Black Lagoon; more history here-)

In addition to scholarships and prizes, as in past years, the finalists’ original artworks tour Louisiana on public display to various locations such as the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge, the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe, and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans.

The Grand Prize Winner works with artist George Rodrigue to create a poster based on their original artwork, sold at Audubon locations, including the zoo, aquarium, butterfly garden and insectarium, benefiting Olmsted Renewed, the Audubon Institute, and the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.

George and I look forward to meeting the finalists, their families, and art teachers next spring at a luncheon in their honor, presented by our 2014 sponsor, Chevron Corporation, at the Audubon Tea Room in New Orleans.


-Deadline for entries:  Feb. 12, 2014.  Learn more about the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA), including its Scholarship Art Contest, Print Donation Program, and Louisiana A+ Schools, at this link-

-George Rodrigue and I hope to see you this fall, as we present lectures and book signings benefiting GRFA and its programs; details here-

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

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Absolut Blue Dog

It’s twenty-five years since George Rodrigue last drank alcohol,* and yet he was part of one of the most successful stories in advertising history, promoting a vodka.

“Even when I did drink,” laughs the artist, “it was always bourbon or wine.  I never liked vodka.”

(pictured, Absolut Rodrigue, 1993, one of three paintings created by George Rodrigue for Michel Roux and Carillon Importers, Ltd.; click photo to enlarge-)

Rodrigue’s reasons for participating in the famous Absolut Art Campaign had nothing to do with promoting alcohol.  Rather, like the Xerox Campaign of 2000, he found the art and advertising synthesis tempting and, from the beginning, impossible to pass up. 

Absolut Art aligned Rodrigue, through Carillon Importer’s Michel Roux, with the advertising tradition he embraced at the Art Center College of Design in the 1960s and, more important, with the art tradition started in 1985 by Roux and Andy Warhol.

“It was Roux’s longtime friendship with world-renowned Andy Warhol that fostered the creative genius behind the 1985 ‘Absolut Warhol’ ad campaign.  This was the first time a marketing campaign was focused around art.” –from the M.P. Roux website-

(pictured, George Rodrigue and Michel Roux, 1992, New Orleans; click photo to enlarge-)

For years, even prior to the Blue Dog paintings, Rodrigue walked a line regarding commercialization within his art.  With his Cajun paintings, he illustrated cookbooks, printed thousands of festival posters, and produced Jolie Blonde Beer

With the Blue Dog, he proceeds cautiously, avoiding products and mass-production of his art, rationalizing otherwise commercial ventures, such as posters for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, labels for Amuse Bouche Wine, and on-going publishing projects, with an adherence to art traditions. 

In the case of Absolut Art, this happened by accident, as Rodrigue painted for an audience at the request of his friend Paul Prudhomme during the chef’s hometown festival.

“When I first met Michel Roux," recalls Rodrigue, "I didn’t know who he was; he was just someone else in the crowd, under a tent in the Opelousas town square.  At the end of the 3-day weekend, I loaded my painting, a triptych of three giant dog heads, in my truck, having no idea what was about to happen. 
“Michel Roux approached me in the parking lot, hoping to buy the canvases for Carillon Importers as the artwork representing Absolut Louisiana.  I knew the Warhol campaign but had my own ideas for the imagery, creating a new design over the next several weeks, incorporating an alligator and oak tree with the Blue Dog and bottle, which I included as a vase for flowers rather than a container for alcohol.”

(pictured, Absolut Louisiana, 1992 by George Rodrigue; click photo to enlarge-)

Absolut Louisiana appeared full page in USA Today in the fall of 1992.  The four hundred prints sold out in a matter of hours, with all proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society.  It was touted at the time as the most successful image of the Absolut Statehood Campaign, with most prints sold at 30,000 feet, from airplane telephones.

Following this success, Roux commissioned Absolut Rodrigue, pictured at the top of this post, an image featured multiple times in nearly every major U.S. and international magazine beginning in 1993 and continuing for several years following.

Rodrigue and Roux became friends during this whirlwind campaign, and when Carillon Importers launched Royalty Vodka in 1995, Roux approached the artist again.  His Three Masterpieces was a natural, combining Roux’s blue vodka with Rodrigue’s Blue Dog and Gainsborough’s Blue Boy (1770), all revealed on canvas behind a curtain.

(pictured, Three Masterpieces, 1995 by George Rodrigue, 60x48 inches; click photo to enlarge-)

Although the vodka fell through, the painting premiered, along with the Blue Dog Hog and the landmark book, Blue Dog, in the fall of 1995 at a Rodrigue exhibition at The Time is Always Now Gallery in New York’s SOHO.  I recall Three Masterpieces appearing almost small, yet holding its own, in the warehouse-type space filled with Rodrigue’s giant Blue Dog canvases, some as large as 8x12 feet, his first works at that scale.

Rodrigue’s artwork for Michel Roux and Carillon Importers is a highlight in his career.  The campaigns place him in an art tradition that includes not only Andy Warhol, but also Keith Haring, Ed Ruscha, and many others, culminating in a permanent exhibition and tribute to the blending of art and advertising at The Museum of Spirits in Stockholm, Sweden.


*Rodrigue gave up alcohol in the late 1980s after he was diagnosed with hepatitis brought on by breathing in paint varnishes; story here-

-George and I hope to see you on tour this fall; new dates posted here-

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

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Monday, September 16, 2013

A New Rodrigue Book

“To your book!”

…toasted George Rodrigue and son AndrĂ© as we perused the first copies of the finished hardcover, The Other Side of the Painting.

“I nearly forgot about it…”

…I replied, moved by their acknowledgment, as I returned that day from a long journey after visiting an ill friend back east.  The book (still hard to write the words, “my book”), seemed terribly important during many months of rewrites and edits before slipping from my hands and into the printer’s.

(pictured, The Other Side of the Painting, 2013, 474 pages, UL Press; available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at your favorite independent bookstore; click photo to enlarge-)

And of course, it’s not really my book.  It’s a Rodrigue book, a memoir starring George, and sometimes me, and sometimes others, as the main character.

"What do you think your last name is?" interjects George, as he reads the draft for this blog post.

In addition, George Rodrigue designed the layout.  The cover features a 1965 painting, completed during a studio art class while he studied at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, and blended in this updated design with the Blue Dog.  Within the 474 pages are paintings and photographs, one per essay, reduced by George to black and white line drawings referencing the text.

-click photos to enlarge-

Unlike my blog, this book, although not a traditional narrative, adheres to a flow, so that even those familiar with Musings of an Artist’s Wife hopefully see the material anew.  In addition, throughout this book, I reworked the original essays, applying a consistent and updated style to basic story lines, such as George’s early years in New Iberia and Lafayette, the development of his Cajun and Blue Dog paintings, and the roots of how and why we explore the visual arts both individually and together.

Within this history, the book integrates today’s Rodrigue story, including the latest from his easel, the goals within our business, the emotions behind his health issues, and our combined passion for the arts in education.

As happens in life, we scaled back the book tour in favor of local events.  George and I hope to see you at the following confirmed dates:

October 16, 7:00 p.m., East Bank Regional Library, Metairie, LA
Coffee & Conversation hosted by the Jefferson Parish Library and the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival; details here-

December 4-8, Words and Music Festival, New Orleans
         Hosted by the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society; details TBA

December 11, 5:00 - 7:00 p.m., George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, New Orleans
      Toast the holidays with George and Wendy Rodrigue during this special book signing at the GRFA Education Center-

December 14, 1:00 p.m.  LSU Museum of Art, Baton Rouge

January 26, 2014  3:00 p.m.  River House Books, Carmel, CA

Visit this link and sign up for the Rodrigue Studio email list for updates.

(pictured, a deluxe special edition of The Other Side of the Painting, signed by George and Wendy Rodrigue, limited to 500 copies; details here-)

Although pleased with the outcome, I’m still not sure if this blog-to-book format works.  My hope from the beginning with Musings of an Artist’s Wife was that the blog would attract a biographer for George.  Although several writers came forward in recent years, George passed, insisting,

“The blog is my biography, especially now that it’s transferred to a book.  After ten publications, I’ve learned a lot about these projects.  A biographer stepping in now would begin from nothing.

“Wendy’s right here, on this journey with me for nearly twenty-five years.  For me this was the natural way to go.  She covers my life in the accurate way of a biographer, but with the personal access available only to her as my wife.”

To George, both the blog and book tell his story, and our story, in a non-traditional, refreshing format.  And, because the journey is ongoing, maybe that’s good enough for now.


-pictured above, from the endsheets, photographed and designed by George Rodrigue-

-all proceeds from The Other Side of the Painting benefit the arts and education programs of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.  This includes not only the regular edition available at your favorite bookstore, but also a special signed and numbered boxed edition, available only through Rodrigue Studio.  Buy here-

-this fall, see a book-related exhibition of paintings and photographs from our personal collection, premiering November 2, 2013 at the State Library of Louisiana during the Louisiana Book Festival, Baton Rouge; details here-

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

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lucky 22

"When you hit twenty-two, it changes the game..."

...said my friend, referring to her lucky number as we played our own "terrific" version of poker in between blood pressure readings, bed changes, and doctor's visits.

I'm in the hospital again, sharing life's challenges with an ill friend who, although I've taken pages of notes about a truly, as she would say, "sensational life," insists she remain anonymous, as she nurtures an elegant and abiding need for privacy.

"You're seeing the real me, Wendy, and I hope you like it; 'cause as they say, I ain't gonna change."

I'm away from George for a week now, in what may become several weeks, or months, on a life's journey we both knew only I could make ... and must.  These are the times when one follows one's instincts and simply tries to do the right thing.

So, no blogging from me for a while, and limited facebook interaction.  It is likely that The Other Side of the Painting will hit bookstores October 1 without me.  But we'll celebrate later, and I have every intention of seeing you at confirmed dates such as the Carmel Art and Film Festival (10/9 - 10/13), Coffee and Conversation (10/16), Ogden After Hours (10/17), and the Louisiana Book Festival (11/2).

I'll be back as soon as possible, notes in hand, sharing the life and art of George Rodrigue, with a few "sensational" vignettes on the side.

Until we meet again, blessings, good health, and happiness to you all.  Oh, and in case I haven't said it lately, I think you're just terrific-


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