Friday, November 29, 2013

Rembrandt: A Memory

In the summer of 2005, George Rodrigue and I visited Amsterdam.  Rembrandt’s house was recently opened to the public.  Because he declared bankruptcy, a detailed list exists of his 1656 belongings, enabling today’s historians to replace every furnishing, fossil, and vase from his vast collections.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) was an art rock star, both during his lifetime and since. Without gallery representation, he sold his work from a gallery inside his home (just as George did for years), ushering potential buyers into a side room, where they chose from his latest paintings, hung salon-style, stacked to high ceilings. 

(pictured below, a wall of Rodrigue festival posters in the artist’s home, Lafayette, Louisiana, circa 1985; also, Rodrigue Studio today, New Orleans-)

-click photos to enlarge-

Rembrandt lived well, even lavishly, in a situation as rare at that time as it is today – a financially successful artist; and, in a less surprising scenario, an artist living beyond his means.

Touring his home felt like prying and honoring, similar to a tour of Graceland.  For George and me, homage and curiosity won out over snooping as, at our guide’s insistence, George created an etching from a copper plate on Rembrandt’s printing press.

I watched the face of this great 21st century artist as he operated the press and then, almost beyond belief, sat at the great 17th century artist’s easel.   He laughed nervously, but fully, his distinct features more pronounced than ever, helplessly khee-hee-hee-ing, a sound as associated by his friends with George as it is by cartoon-lovers with Snagglepuss. 

We lost our camera on that trip, but perhaps my memory is the better record, as I recall George star struck over an artist more than three hundred years dead.

George Rodrigue’s face reflects a Cajun's and artist's ethos.  It’s memorable, with exaggerated features.  His pronounced cheeks protrude, and his deep set green eyes watch intently without widening.  His nose, chin, mouth and forehead have what most people call “character,” defined by hard lines, not to be confused with wrinkles, forming shapes on his face similar to the strong shapes on his canvas

(pictured, George Rodrigue with his portrait by New Orleans artist David Harouni, 2012; learn more here-)

Rembrandt also had a distinctive face.  We know this because of his self-portraits, nearly one hundred in all, including paintings, etchings, and drawings.  They chronicle his changes in visage and maturity, while also reflecting his deep understanding of his creative calling.

As George sat at Rembrandt’s easel, I sat across the room at Rembrandt’s apprentice’s table.  Using a mortar and pestle, I ground the colored rocks into powder, adding linseed oil to make paste and, finally, paint, connecting me also to the past, so that I shared in George’s moment.


-for a related post, see "Blue Fall in Louisiana," linked here-

-for the latest reviews of The Other Side of the Painting, a new Rodrigue book, click here-

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

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Truth, I Swear

My sister talked me into posting "15 facts that people might not know" recently on my family facebook page.  The reactions ranged from surprise to confessions to fun. Emboldened, and as a little something different on this blog, I post them again here, along with a few photos (click to enlarge).  

1-I was born on a military base in Dover, Delaware.

2-When I was five, my mom, while pregnant, asked me to name my sister, which I did while picking flowers in the woods on Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany.

(pictured, Wendy, Germany, 1969)

3-I gave our mom three options: Dandelion, Edelweiss, and Heather.

(pictured, Mama brings Heather home from the hospital, Germany, 1972)

4-I had a pet squirrel named Fuzzy Wuzzy that I hand-fed from my bedroom window in Shalimar, Florida.

(pictured, our house, 16 Magnolia Drive, 1973-1977, in Shalimar, Florida, as it looks today; my bedroom window was on the 2nd floor, far left-)

5-Fuzzy Wuzzy was shot dead in 1975 by my best friend's brother, using a bb gun. I'm still mad.

6-Chip Totten was my first boyfriend. We were seven.

(note: Chip commented that I later cornered him for a kiss beneath our 4th grade classroom table; however, having blocked that out years ago, I don't recall it as a fact-)

7-My senior year of high school, my "profession test" stated that I should attend vo-tech school and become a mechanic.

(pictured, Mama/Mignon, Heather, Wendy/Dolores, and HAIR, during Mardi Gras, my senior year of high school, 1985)

8-As a teenager, my cousin Kelly gave me the pseudonym, "Dolores Pepper." The name stuck, and I dated several guys well into my 20s who thought that was my name.

(pictured above, a young Dolores Pepper and Flower Anne (a.k.a. Kelly), 1970s, New Orleans; below, George Rodrigue's silkscreen, created after I fessed up, and in our honor, Dolores Pepper and Flower Anne, 2009, on view at Rodrigue Studio; read more about Dolores and Flower, if you dare, in The Other Side of the Painting-)

9-In the 1980s, my mom let me join her and her friends for Ladies Night at the Seagull and the Landing (both long-gone nightspots in Fort Walton Beach, Florida), provided I call her "Mignon." If I slipped up, I had to leave.

10-I was once mistaken for Kim Basinger while buying a Christmas tree. The guy at the lot insisted I take the tree for free. I gave him an autograph.

11-During family gatherings, I sometimes call my husband, "Dad," and my dad, "George." Fortunately, alcohol is always involved.

(pictured, Heather, Dad and me, when Heather and I surprised our dad for his birthday with a double-renewal of our wedding vows during a 2005 pool party, New Orleans; the purpose was to get pictures with both of his daughters in their wedding dresses; riiiiiggghhhtttt....-)

12-After wearing them for months, I complained to George that the "R" is backwards in the "WR" earrings he designed. Turns out I was looking at them in the mirror.

13-I have so many Neil Diamond shirts that I can't count them all. I would like a Neil Diamond hoodie, but I haven't found one yet.

(note: before you start looking, the links are already pouring in, and I feel fairly sure I'll find one under the tree this year-)

14-For years, I have highlighted my hair.

15-My two favorite words are "Aunt Wendy."

Hope you enjoyed; next post, back to the arts!


-pictured above, nephews Wyatt and William with Zoey; Tallahassee, Florida, October 2013; see also my sister Heather's blog, Adventures of a BMX Mom, linked here-

-for the latest reviews of The Other Side of the Painting, a new Rodrigue book, visit here-

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

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Monday, November 11, 2013

The Lone Artist

“The artist is involved with art as a way of life.”*

George Rodrigue and I discuss often the definition of art.  We study the roles of craft, commercialism, high and low art, concluding always that there is no definitive answer, but that the fun ---indeed the tradition--- lies in the debates.

Ideally, art reflects the artist's soul and stimulates a personal connection for the viewer.  While creating, however, the artist exists in a solitary place, separate in both thought and actuality from the opinions and influence of others.

“I see no need for a community,” stated artist David Hare (1917-1992).  “An artist is always lonely.  The artist is a man who functions beyond or ahead of his society.”

(pictured, It’s Never the Same, 2007 by George Rodrigue, acrylic on canvas, 36x24 inches, on view at Rodrigue Studio-)

This week George and I read together the transcripts from Studio 35, specifically a three-day gathering in 1950 of Abstract Expressionists (although they debated that label as well), including Hans Hofmann, Robert Motherwell, Louise Bourgeois and a few dozen others.  During these closed sessions, the artists debated terminology and addressed questions such as,

How do you know when a painting is finished? Is it better to title a painting or give it a number? Should artwork be signed? Can a straight line be considered a pure expression?

(pictured, Five Balls, 1963 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 40x40 inches; click photo to enlarge-)

Their comments spanned the width of their minds, as they blended experience, contemplation, and personalities.  I asked George the questions too, because I recognized in these artists similar approaches to his own.

“I don’t understand, in a painting,” noted Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967), “the love of anything except the love of painting itself.”

….and from George Rodrigue: 

“My favorite painting is always the one I’m working on now.”

When discussing how to know when a painting is finished, several artists spoke of the need for multiple works.

“That’s why you have to study ten to fifteen paintings together,” interjected George, as though he sat in on this session.  “If one stands off from the others, then you’ve overworked it, and it’s too much.

“The group is more important than the single canvas, especially when it comes to learning how to stop.  Looking at the group is the only way to see what you’re doing.”

(pictured, George Rodrigue works on Bodies in his Carmel studio, 2004; click photo to enlarge-)

Regarding process and philosophy, the group never agreed, reaffirming the personal nature of art.  They all agreed in their dismissal, however, of not only public popularity, but also museums and academia, an irony given their status on all fronts today.  George, too, lumps these audiences together:

“If you try to paint to please a public or a critic,” says George, “you’ll never create anything lasting, anything new, or anything purely your own.”

This attitude dictates approach.  In George’s case, for example, he ignores outside perception (most often, too many Blue Dogs, or for years, too many Oaks), in favor of what he knows to be true regarding the challenges in repeating these subjects.  For him, as he works within this four-sided canvas environment, shapes and colors are king.  It is because of this abstract approach that he never tires of his subjects.

“One shape in relation to other shapes makes the ‘expression;’ not one shape or another, but the relations between the two makes the ‘meaning’.” –Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)

(pictured, The Last Puzzle Piece, 2013 by George Rodrigue, acrylic on canvas, 40x60; click photo to enlarge-)

By the time George reached art school in the 1960s, his professors spoke of “the death of easel painting.”  The same museums and academic elite that once eschewed the Abstract Expressionists now revered their movement, pushing it to the forefront of popular culture as well.  Pop Art was the new guy on the block, dismissed in the same way as its predecessors.

(pictured, “We are so walking on a Pollock painting,” gasped sisters and artists Mallory Page and Natalie Domingue, visiting recently Jackson Pollock’s house and studio in East Hampton, New York; click photo to enlarge-)

“I can tell by their questions that these are all artists from the 50s,” continued George about the Studio 35 sessions.  “As time went by, the questions answered themselves, because the progression of art – not the artists themselves – dictates the direction.”


*David Hare, from Artists’ Sessions at Studio 35 (1950), Edited by Robert Goodnough, Soberscove Press/Wittenborn Art Books, 2009-

-visit this link for the latest reviews of The Other Side of the Painting, published October 2013, UL Press-

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

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

An Exhibition from the Other Side

This month, the State Library of Louisiana premieres an exhibition based on a new Rodrigue book, The Other Side of the Painting, on view through February 2014.  Unable to attend the November 2nd opening in Baton Rouge, George Rodrigue and I relied on curator Marney Robinson, who astonished us with her ability to fully utilize a one-walled space at the library’s entrance.

To create the exhibition, Robinson borrowed paintings by various artists from within our personal collection, including George Rodrigue’s original works from his archives, corresponding to vignettes from the UL Press publication, The Other Side of the Painting.  Eleven of the sixteen pieces are on public display for the first time.

-click photo to enlarge-

(pictured:  The Other Side of the Painting:  A Special Exhibition, on view through February 2014 at the State Library of Louisiana, Baton Rouge-)

“This exhibition gives viewers a taste of the original art that inspired Wendy to write her book," explains George Rodrigue.  “This includes not only my early art, but also paintings from her mother and interesting photographs, such as the King Tut line at the New Orleans Museum of Art from 1977. 
"Both Wendy and I congratulate Marney Robinson for her selection and her eye for installation.  We could not be more pleased with the finished exhibition.”

(pictured, Curator of Exhibitions, Marney Robinson, with her favorite grouping from the new exhibition at the State Library of Louisiana, including Spring Bouquet, 1979 by Mignon Wolfe, Hot Dog Halo, 1995 by George Rodrigue, and the King Tut line, 1977, courtesy of the New Orleans Museum of Art; click photo to enlarge-)

“Marney is rockin’ it!”

…says Bethany France, Director of Louisiana A+ Schools for the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA), who joined Robinson for the exhibition’s premiere during the Louisiana Book Festival this weekend. 

Simultaneously, our foundation unveils its latest project, a cookbook in partnership with the Louisiana Restaurant AssociationThe Pot and the Palette features award-winning student artwork from GRFA’s annual scholarship art contest, including recipes from Louisiana’s greatest chefs and restaurants.

(pictured, GRFA’s Director of Development, Wayne Fernandez, with artist Mallory Page at the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts Education Center, New Orleans; also pictured, George Rodrigue’s hand-painted fiberglass LSU cow and a mixed media on metal; click photo to enlarge-)

Although not quite a George Rodrigue biography, The Other Side of the Painting is the closest publication to date, a memoir recounting our personal histories and our love of the arts.  As a result, this exhibition is revealing as well, explaining the origins of some of Rodrigue’s most famous works through the photographs, artists and histories that inspired him.

-click photos to enlarge-

The wall also includes original Rodrigue sketches and student artwork, including his Creature from the Black Lagoon from 1957, as well as the book's cover image, painted on illustration board while Rodrigue studied at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, 1965.  Other works include his original Ragin' Cajun (1979), a classic 1969 landscape, and a painting from the Xerox Collection (2000).

“It makes for a very diverse exhibit,” explains Rodrigue, “and it provides the viewer with a better understanding of how this book formed around not only my art, but also mine and Wendy’s art-filled life together.”


-this exhibition is free and open to the public thru Feb 2014; hours and location details at this link;  George Rodrigue and I extend our appreciation to Jim Davis, Robert Wilson, the Louisiana Book Festival, and the State Library of Louisiana-

-read the latest reviews of The Other Side of the Painting here-

-all proceeds from the book, The Other Side of the Painting, benefit the arts in education programs of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts; order here-

-all proceeds from The Pot and the Palette benefit the Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation and the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts; order here-

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

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