Saturday, August 24, 2013

Galerie Blue Dog, Carmel


In 1991 George Rodrigue opened Galerie Blue Dog in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  The one-square-mile village includes cottages, restaurants, shops and galleries, all descending westward towards the beach and Pacific Ocean.

“I visited Carmel often while a student at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles during the 1960s,” recalls Rodrigue.  “As long as I can remember, it was my dream to open a gallery in this seaside artist’s community.”


(pictured, Carmel Edition I, 1991, Silkscreen edition 90, 35x26 inches-)

In Rodrigue’s Louisiana style, the gallery opened with the help of his good friend, Chef Paul Prudhomme, who fed hundreds, or maybe thousands, of eager Californians during a party so popular that lines wrapped around our block.  We received reservation requests for months afterwards, as folks confused the arrival of a Cajun artist with the arrival of jambalaya and étouffée.  We threw costume parties at Mardi Gras and Halloween, with George and his boys dressed as the Blues Brothers, while Sandra (see below) and I dressed as colorful cats.

In addition to Hansel-and-Gretel-type cottages and narrow, tree-lined streets, part of Carmel’s charm is its timelessness, including a lack of addresses.  In 1991, having never seen the West Coast, I transferred from the Rodrigue Gallery of New Orleans and lived for six years in a tiny house on the east side of Guadalupe Street between 4th and 5th Avenues.  Without need of a car, I walked daily the ten blocks to Galerie Blue Dog, stopping along the way to visit with friends, detouring between the coffee shop, market, and beach.


(pictured, Pony Monroe and I reminisce in 2013 at Carmel’s Rio Grill beneath an original George Rodrigue, painted on the wall in 1993; for years, Pony owned a nail salon at Junipero and 5th,  a corner I passed on foot twice daily-)

The original Galerie Blue Dog opened in 1991 on the South side of 6th Avenue between Lincoln and Dolores Streets.  A former doctor’s office, the space was long and narrow, with one small window.  At the time, it was the only option available in the popular tourist’s destination.  One block from the main drag of Ocean Avenue, the odd space fit us well for many years, as we joined the artist-owned galleries and family businesses that cemented Carmel’s charm.


(pictured, George Rodrigue holds a chocolate bunny mold from the mom-and-pop candy store that operated for years across the street from his first Carmel gallery location; the original Galerie Blue Dog sign hangs today on the outside wall of our studio/home, Carmel Valley; August 2013-)

I described our side of the street as “Flowers, Fruit, Dogs, Ducks and Fairies,” featuring Lilliana Braico’s pink blossoms, Loran Speck’s Renaissance-style still-lifes, George Rodrigue’s contemporary Blue Dogs, The Decoy’s hand-carved wooden ducks, and Lynn Lupetti’s dainty creatures and fairies.

In fact, Jenny Johnson, who works today full time at Rodrigue Studio in Carmel, worked first in her family’s business, The Decoy, and later for the Lynn Lupetti Gallery, both originally on our block.


(pictured, Jenny Johnson at Rodrigue Studio, now located on Dolores Street between Ocean and 7th, Carmel-by-the-Sea, 2013; click photo to enlarge-)

It was in Carmel that Rodrigue’s famous Loup-garou first hung by my desk, selling in 1993 and finding its way, years later, back to me.  In 1992 I stood in line at the Carmel Drugstore for multiple copies of The Wall Street Journal featuring a sketched Blue Dog on the front page.  And in 1993, following Absolut Louisiana and Absolut Rodrigue, it was in Carmel that I witnessed the public’s shift from “What’s with this dog?” to “Hey! I know that dog!”

Also during this time, Mary Threadgill came to work for the gallery.  A Certified Gemologist, Mary and her late husband, Burney, were longtime Carmel residents who raised their family here while also treating me as their own. 


(pictured, Mary Threadgill celebrates twenty years with Rodrigue Studio, Carmel-by-the-Sea, 2013; click photo to enlarge-)

In Carmel I worked from the beginning with Sandra Crake, a Baton Rouge native by way of Arkansas and Texas, who remained in California until 2011, when she returned to Louisiana.  Today she works at Rodrigue Studio in New Orleans, embracing, even as she misses the quaint village and golden light of Carmel-by-the-Sea, the nostalgia that accompanies her southern roots and the closeness of family.


(pictured, with Sandra Crake, in pink, and daughter Caress Crake Threadgill, far right, at the Mad Hatters Luncheon benefitting the Baton Rouge Symphony League, 2011; also pictured, Mad Hatter and retired Baton Rouge coroner, Hippolyte Landry-)

In 1998 George Rodrigue became, once again, agent-free and owner of his galleries.  A change in name accompanied the legalities, and Galerie Blue Dog became Rodrigue Studio.  In 2009 he relocated his Carmel gallery to a location he eyed for years, abandoning the former doctor’s office for a larger and brighter exhibition space.


(pictured, Carmel Edition II, 1996, Silkscreen edition 90, 25x21 inches-)

Today I channel the early years as my ‘olden days,’ recalling our first clients, hand-written invoices, and daily trips to Carmel Camera Center. I rehung the gallery many late nights, imagining on the following morning, as I walked from Guadalupe to Dolores, that I encountered George’s art for the first time.  If I didn’t stop, stunned, I pulled the paintings from the walls, grabbed the ladder and hammer, and started again.


(pictured, George Rodrigue with Jenny Johnson and Mary Threadgill at Rodrigue Studio, Dolores Street between Ocean and 7th, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Summer 2013; click photo to enlarge-)

I recall with sentiment, but without longing, the heavy gallery typewriter, along with Sandra’s and my excitement over the new ‘roll’ fax machine and the way, as Sandra said, we “stood on our heads” on the gallery floor, finagling a 6-foot high roll of bubble wrap and assembling wooden crates.  Throughout it all, we adhered to our self-imposed 1990s gallery fashion: short skirts, high heels, and big hair.

George and I dated in Carmel between 1993 and 1997, when we married and returned to live in Louisiana.  We’ve kept a home on the Monterey Peninsula ever since, visiting often over the years and returning this past spring, indefinitely.

Wendy

-visit Rodrigue Studio, now located on the West side of Dolores Street between Ocean and 7th, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, (831) 626-4444-

-George Rodrigue serves as Featured Artist of the Carmel Art and Film Festival, October 9-13, 2013; details here-

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


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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tom "Slim" Gray


“I wish I’d met you 20 years ago,” 

...said a tearful George Rodrigue on the phone last week with Tom “Slim” Gray of Alvin, Texas.  The two became friends in Houston during the summer of 2012.  They exchanged stories every Monday for nearly three months, as they sat for hours during chemotherapy.

“I just wanted to call and let you know how we feel about you,” continued George.


(pictured, Tom Gray with George Rodrigue, reconnecting last month in Houston-)

Last summer Tom was for George in many ways a lifeline, just as Tom's wife Janice was for me.  In the midst of their own life’s struggle, they shined with their compassion for others.


(pictured, a coconut cake from Janice and Tom, a surprise for George when he completed his 40th consecutive day of radiation-)

I took notes last summer as George and Tom visited, resulting in the story, “Match Race,” now revised and updated to reflect the version appearing in the book, The Other Side of the Painting, due this fall.  At their request, the story also includes their real names, disguised initially to protect their privacy.

“We’ll send you Wendy’s book as soon as it comes out,” promised George.  “Your name’s in the book, Slim.  It’s permanent.” 

Read “Match Race,” starring Janice and Tom “Slim” Gray, at this link.


“Take it easy, my friend,” said George, as he hung up the phone.

Rest in Peace, Slim.

Wendy

-Tom “Slim” Gray passed away at home in Alvin, Texas on August 19, 2013; his wife Janice and their two sons were by his side; obituary-


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Monday, August 12, 2013

Gus Weill and George Rodrigue (a couple of local boys)


Why do you do what you do?
Ah sir if we only knew.
But the winds call
And the waves toss
And we follow
And are lost.
Ah sir if we only knew.*
                        -Gus Weill, 1981


(pictured, A Couple of Local Boys, 1981, oil on canvas by George Rodrigue, 48x36 inches; collection the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts; click photo to enlarge-)

In 1981 artist George Rodrigue collaborated on a book with Louisiana poet, playwright, and political consultant Gus Weill (b. 1933).  They met in the mid-1960s through Weill’s Lafayette advertising agency, where he gained fame as a mentor to political commentator James Carville, and where he managed gubernatorial campaigns for Jimmie Davis and John McKeithen, and later, in Baton Rouge, for Edwin Edwards and Dave Treen.

In 1965 Rodrigue, home on a summer break from art school in Los Angeles, applied for a temporary job in Weill’s firm.

“He already had an artist, so he didn’t hire me,” recalls Rodrigue, “but we became friends.  Fifteen years later he approached me about a book.  I had just finished a children’s book with Dotsie LeBlanc, Le Petit Cajun:  Conversations with André Rodrigue, and Gus wanted to take it further, writing poems about my paintings.”


(pictured, George Rodrigue and son André in Rodrigue's home and gallery on Jefferson Street, with featured books (from left) The Cajuns of George Rodrigue, a couple of local boys with Gus Weill, the Encyclopedia of Cajun Cooking, Bayou with Chris Segura (including the first Blue Dog painting), and Family Recipes:  Secrets of Maude Landry’s Kitchen; Rodrigue’s Mamou Mardi Gras hangs on the wall, 1984; click photo to enlarge-)

The book, a couple of local boys, includes paintings by Rodrigue and poems by Weill.  According to the inside cover, the collection…

“…is about the rudiments of human existence:  laughing and crying and victory and defeat and ghosts and sex.”*

Indeed, I struggled to find something quotable for this G-rated blog.

My grandpa said, hold the bat just like that.
He had seen Ty Cobb do it.
But I wanted to write
and he had never seen Thomas Wolfe.
Before he died he forgave me
and left his baseball cards to
my brother
who never misses a game.*


(above:  poem by Gus Weill; Let’s Play Ball, with André Rodrigue and Bud Petro, 1980 by George Rodrigue; click photo to enlarge-)

“Everyone was shocked when they read the book,” says Rodrigue.  “I didn’t read the poems before they were published, and I had a lot of explaining to do around town.”

Like George with the poetry, Gus also received a shock when he saw the book’s cover:

“You painted yourself as a swash-buckling Errol Flynn holding a sword,” he said. “And you painted me as a Rasputin.”

(note:  Rodrigue still uses this Excalibur-like sword, which he found years earlier in the Bayou Teche, as a mahlstick, helping to steady his hand while painting.)


The Lafayette poet and the Lafayette artist sparred in fun and friendship, linked by their mutual respect and a commitment to their craft.  From Weill’s introduction:

“Rodrigue’s people came from Quebec and Canada, and mine came from Alsace Lorraine.  His father was a bricklayer.  Mine sold mules.
“He begins painting at 8:30 at night and finishes at 5 a.m.  I write at 4 a.m.  We do this every day.  We don’t know why.  For the purposes of this book, we tried to come up with an explanation.  The best we could do was, we create because we must.  That’s not a satisfactory explanation for us either.  But we can’t do better.  Call it a compulsion.”

-click photo to enlarge-



In addition to his successful advertising firm and political savvy, Gus Weill taught playwriting at Louisiana State University; he authored novels and award-winning plays; and he served for nineteen years as the host of Louisiana Public Broadcasting's Louisiana Legends Gala, honoring, among others, the subjects of sixteen Rodrigue portraits.

(pictured, official poster for the Deep South Writers Conference, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, 1981; more info here-)

-click photo to enlarge-


Today Weill lives and writes in New York City, and Rodrigue lives and paints in New Orleans and Carmel, California.  Despite fond memories, the two have not seen each other in years.  Rodrigue recalls,

“Gus always talked with questions, and he worked while stretched out on his couch instead of sitting behind his desk.  For years, every time I saw him he’d say, ‘They never paid us for that book, did they?’”

On the book’s back inside cover, Weill includes a portrait not by Rodrigue, but by the artist/illustrator Bernie Fuchs. 

What the….?  I asked.

George shrugged,

“He wanted me to draw him, and I did, but he didn’t like it, so he used Bernie Fuchs’s sketch instead. 
“Eventually I quit hanging out with him because he moved to New York,” he continued, laughing, “and because every Christmas I had to give him fifty prints for his friends!”


I think you misnamed this book, I replied. 

You should have called it  A Couple of Good Ol’ Boys.

Wendy

*about the poem at the top of this post, Weill wrote, "A few years ago on television, I saw salmon swimming upstream to die. I couldn't get over it. So I wrote a poem questioning the salmon. The poem also questions George Rodrigue and me."

*unless otherwise noted, all quotes by Gus Weill from a couple of local boys, Claitor’s Publishing Division, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1981-

-The Other Side of the Painting, a book based on this blog and published by UL Press (October 2013), is now available for pre-order; details here-

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



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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Blessed Life (An Irish Angel)


Last summer was challenging, as George Rodrigue faced an advanced lung cancer diagnosis and several months of treatment in Houston.  Last fall, with his disease in remission, we tied up loose ends in New Orleans and prepared for a West Coast sabbatical.  This spring, we spent weeks on the road, exploring America as we’ve done every year in the past twenty, but one, arriving in central California mid-April, indefinitely.

Summer 2013 also has its challenges.  We paint a rosy picture on facebook and in photographs, but anyone who knows such health concerns understands that there’s no quick or guaranteed fix.  Remission, we learned, means living with cancer, even after successful treatment.  It means ongoing tests, occasional setbacks, and unpredictable side effects. 

“Having a job where basically I sit all day and paint, using my brain without physical exertion,” explains George Rodrigue, “fits perfect with me.  Most days it’s like I never had cancer at all.”


(pictured, a Green Dog by George Rodrigue, 2013; details here-)

We embrace good days with excursions to beautiful Lake Tahoe or Big Sur and quick trips with fine dinners in Las Vegas.  On slower days, most days, we osmose nature in our Carmel Valley backyard, where the sun sets over the Santa Lucia Mountains, and the lace oaks define our view.

Throughout it all, George Rodrigue paints, mindful of his lessened stamina, but returned, as much as possible, to his easel.

Without question, George and I lead a blessed life.  We have wonderful friends and a loving family, both immediate and extended.  We make a good living within the arts, our professions and lifes' pursuit.  We marvel often that somehow on our individual journeys, one a product of 1950s New Iberia and the other of 1970s Fort Walton Beach, we found each other. 

All of it together is more than luck, I know.  It’s a product of some kind of grace, far more than we deserve.  This we both know.


(pictured, July 2013 at a rodeo in Lake Tahoe; photograph by Kevin Vogt-)

While dating, George and I drove, as often as possible, the Pacific Coast Highway between Carmel and Big Sur, the rented convertible's top down and the early 1990s New Age Irish sounds of Enya and Clannad surrounding us at full volume.

My mother, a now-credited muse,* sent me the music, suspecting the romance long before we told her or anyone.  As a child, I explored often not only her favorite music, Neil Diamond, Don Williams, and Simon & Garfunkel, but also the printed treasures within her bookcase, a large collection she carted from country to country since college, as she transferred, according to orders, with my dad, an officer in the United States Air Force. 

From the beginning, her European art books helped shape my course in life, as we discussed together the Rubenesque nude and Picasso's genius.  At age thirteen, halfway through Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which I snuck in secret from the shelves, I sunk into my first depression, jolting my mother into a reaction best saved for my diary.  At age sixteen, I memorized and quoted love and life lessons by Kahlil Gibran; and throughout it all, I lightened the mood with the Irish spirit of Ogden Nash (1902-1971, of Baltimore and New York), a collection I pulled again recently from the shelves.

“In the Vanities, No One Wears Panities,” wrote Nash.

I’ve never been to Ireland.  My mother, a world-traveler, longed to visit, but she never made it either.  Her maiden name, McClanahan, is Scottish, but it’s Ireland that called her, eventually passing Greece and Egypt on her bucket list.

I write often of my NYC museum visits with my Irish friend Emer Ferguson.  Together we explored Degas and Litchtenstein at the Morgan Library, miniatures by the Limbourg Brothers at the Metropolitan, and the Irish Dan Flavin also at the Morgan. Emer addicted George and me to Irish butter, Cadbury chocolates, and Irish coffee with real whipped cream.  She filled our bookshelves wih Colum McCann, Anne Enright, and, my current obsession, The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story, companions to both my mother’s and George’s art school collections.  Within each gift she includes her notes on the text, providing the added prize of a guaranteed good read.


(pictured, George sketches at home in Carmel, California, alongside a few gifts from Emer; click photo to enlarge-)

Other than a brief trip to Canada, George Rodrigue and I have not left the United States since 2005.  Prior to that time, we traveled often to Europe and Asia for a mixture of business and pleasure, combining vacations with exhibitions of his artwork. However, since 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, we appreciate more our magnificent country.  Rather than long trips abroad, we drive across America.

Recently, we feel the international travel pull again.  This time, Ireland is on our radar.  With our friends Jack Lamplough and Emer Ferguson, we hope in the coming years to explore Emer's homeland.  Now more than ever, we feel the need for this journey, tracking down an Irish angel, visiting America on her honeymoon, who leapt from a crowd last week and, there is no other way to say it, saved George’s life.

(pictured, George Rodrigue and an Irish angel, August 7, 2013; click photo to enlarge-)


“I love the Irish!” 

....I told this stranger, through my tears, as three hundred people looked on.

We learned later that a rare side effect of his medication caused George to faint and his heart to stop beating. 

“George, tell me your name..."

...insisted Mrs. McBride of Ballymoney, after he coughed, after her fourth chest compression, as she threw all of her weight onto his ribcage.

“George!” 

...he called out, in an exchange we laugh about…

...now that he’s okay.

…now that things are normal again.

My mom, Mignon McClanahan Wolfe, loved the music of Loreena McKennitt, the Canadian-born musician of Irish-Scottish descent.  When my sister and I packed up her things, we found “Dante’s Prayer” on our mother’s stereo.  Like a 1980s radio request, this song goes out "To Brenda."



“I want to see the Irish coast,” 

...said Mignon,* laughing, as she quoted a few Ogden Nash favorites in the last week of her life.  And I made a promise that, unknown to me at the time, I would not be able to keep.

Wendy

*I dedicated The Other Side of the Painting, a book based on this blog, to my mother, “To Mignon, who named herself after a French actress.”  All proceeds benefit the arts education programs of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts; details and pre-orders here-

-near New Orleans this fall?  Please join me for "Coffee & Conversation" on October 16th, hosted by the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival and the Jefferson Parish Library.  Details here

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

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Rocky Mountain Blues


Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, George Rodrigue, like many New Orleans artists, sought temporary venues for his work.  Even after the Rodrigue Gallery reopened in January 2006, it was several years before tourists returned strong to the city.  Local artists depend on this exposure to sell their art.

In addition, although George and I experienced only minor damage to our Faubourg Marigny home, members of our staff did not fare as well.  While they struggled with insurance companies, F.E.M.A., and, in several cases, losing everything they owned, we hoped to reassure them with employment and a steady income. 

At first, Rodrigue’s program, Blue Dog Relief, pre-occupied us.  The prints raised funds for humanitarian and arts organizations on the Gulf Coast while satisfying our need, as well as the need of our staff, to help in some way. However, we also longed for distraction and normalcy for our stressed co-workers, all of whom worried for their families, their jobs, and their city.

George found the answer far from home, in Aspen, Colorado.


(pictured, Wash My Blues Away, 2007 by George Rodrigue, silkscreen, 36x26 inches, Edition 100; click photo to enlarge)

In Aspen, we rented a location for three years and rotated the Rodrigue Gallery staff on two/three month shifts.  In most cases they brought their families and lived, temporarily, in this Rocky Mountain paradise.

George and I remained mostly in Louisiana; however, several times each year we visited Aspen, delivering paintings and enjoying our own brief escape.  While there, George researched the area using his camera. Back in New Orleans, he manipulated and cropped the photographs, eventually creating four silkscreen prints.


(pictured, Golden Retriever, 2007 by George Rodrigue, silkscreen, 22x36 inches, Edition 100; click photo to enlarge)

“Photography has been a part of my creative process for a long time,” explains Rodrigue.  “As I look back over the last forty years, I realize that I have worked basically the same way the entire time.  For my early Cajun paintings I photographed models, then used my photographs as sources, ‘arranging’ the images within them in different ways in order to best portray whatever folktale was my subject. 
“In these four silkscreen prints, all created in 2007, I’ve used the camera in a similar fashion.  First, I went to the Rocky Mountains and made hundreds of photographs of the sky and landscape during each of the four seasons.  After studying and playing with these images for a year or so, I was ready to make silkscreen prints that incorporated the Blue Dog shape.”


(Three Dog Night, 2007 by George Rodrigue, silkscreen, 22x36 inches, Edition 100; click photo to enlarge)

“I fused the two images together in a way that showed the Blue Dog emerging from and yet belonging within the mountains and trees.  The Blue Dog becomes a part of nature, with the landscape revealing itself through the dog’s shape. 
“With today’s technology, the computer has given me hundreds of variations with which to work---in an almost collage-type construction.  These are the first four silkscreen editions I made using this new process.”*


(pictured, Take Me Home, 2007 by George Rodrigue, silkscreen, 36x26 inches, Edition 100; click photo to enlarge)

Since these Rocky Mountain images, Rodrigue expanded this technique, exploring large-scale similar artworks on metal in series like Swamp Dogs (2011) and Hollywood Stars (2013). Although these recent works pay tribute to Louisiana and the Silver Screen, it was silkscreens such as Take Me Home and Wash My Blues Away (pictured above) that planted the seed.

“Living off and on in Aspen for three years,” reflects the artist today, “we became more aware of John Denver’s 'Rocky Mountain High' and what that really means.  I was very inspired to produce something connected to the area.”


Wendy

*more on George Rodrigue’s print-making process in the book George Rodrigue Prints:  A Catalogue Raisonne 1970-2007, detailed here-

-for pricing and availability of George Rodrigue’s Rocky Mountain silkscreens, contact Rodrigue Studio-

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



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