Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Rodrigue Comes Home

Those of you who follow this blog know that over the past six years (goodness…..six years….) and more than 300 essays, I focus on text, with quotes from George, and a careful complement of photographs and paintings.

However, after spending a whirlwind week in Louisiana, I’m ready to post quickly and then get on with things like …..Christmas shopping, walking the historic Santa Fe Plaza, wrapping gifts, decorating the tree, and, well, reflecting, being, living, in my new life in the City Different.

This also includes the arts, such as the inaugural exhibition of Edition One Gallery, featuring an original (and debut) photograph by George Rodrigue (I’ll post on this later), as well as an evening supporting the Santa Fe Artist’s Medical Fund, established many years ago by George’s good friend, artist Armond Lara.

A Louisiana Return, in photographs-

-click any image to enlarge-













So there you have it, a 5-day journey to a former life, a place I never thought I’d go without him.  I now know that I’ll return to Louisiana more often, and other places as well.  To my surprise, I felt welcome, loved, and missed.  And most important…. 

...I felt him...

Thank you, Louisiana.  I've missed you too.  And I'll be seeing you-


-within this post, from the top:  the Bayou Teche Museum in George's hometown of New Iberia; Ridge Elementary School in Duson, a Louisiana A+ School; the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette; the historic Heymann House and UL Alumni Center, where I signed The Other Side of the Painting as part of the UL Press Holiday Book Sale; Jolie's Louisiana Bistro in Lafayette, featuring George's Cajun paintings; J. Wallace James Elementary School in Scott, a Louisiana A+ School; the Rodrigue warehouse in Lafayette, including the new print Saints on the Bayou; the new Blue Dog Cafe in Lake Charles; Rodrigue Studio in New Orleans (along with the 1989 Rodrigue Gallery sign I stumbled on in the warehouse); a reception for "Louisiana Graveyards" with original paintings by George Rodrigue spanning 40 years; my sister Heather and I channel childhood holidays with Grandma Helen in the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel; a reunion with treasured girlfriends at Commander's Palace.   .....and throughout, George's sons Jacques and André, along with Rodrigue staff and friends, and the inspiring and creative students, teachers, administrators, and educators connected to Ridge Elementary, J. Wallace James Elementary, Louisiana A+ Schools, and the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts-

-for more pictures, please join me on Instagram-

-and finally, because George would insist I share these outtakes ...

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Moment

“What are you thinking about?” I asked George, following hours of silence.  “The road,” he replied.

After dozens of cross-country journeys together over twenty years, his answer was always the same.  So I stopped asking, and pondered, instead, his answer.

George wasn’t speaking of the asphalt, although he did reminisce about old Route 66 and the way it hugged the terrain.  He was more likely to note the O’Keeffe clouds, the long shadows, the golden light, the far horizon, the WEST

(pictured:  Santa Fe Sky, 2013 by George Rodrigue, an unrealized design for metal found on his computer; click photo to enlarge-)

During these long hours in our truck, through his dedication (as opposed to discipline) at his easel, and by the way he stared from the hill behind our house in Carmel Valley, George taught me about the moment.  It came naturally to him.  He was always in it.

(pictured:  Rodrigue in Studio, 2011 by George Rodrigue; click photo to enlarge)

I don’t think I fully understood the moment until the last few months of George’s illness.  Encouraged by his doctors and by my own optimism, I honestly believed he was going to pull through.  I didn’t imagine it or dream it as a possibility; rather, I thought about him, and about us, in what I now think is the same way he thought about the road.  

There was less worry concerning what might or might not happen then there was in just being with what was happening.  Something as simple as holding hands or exchanging a look became the whole of the experience.

My last post was “normal and informative about George and his art,” noted my sister, “like the old days.”  I knew it couldn’t last, though, as I’ve struggled to post something, anything, in recent weeks.  You see, it’s the holidays, eleven years since Mignon and two years since George, and it’s complicated.  This moment calls for something else ---- something just as true in fact, but even truer in sentiment.

I recently saw the movie/documentary Peggy Guggenheim:  Art Addict and reflect again on my role, such as it is, in life, in the art world, and in George’s world.  I don’t have her name, nor her money.  Although I collect art, I’ve never thought of myself as a “patron” of the arts, as a Peggy Guggenheim who discovers, nurtures, and takes credit for the likes of Pollock and Calder and Ernst.  I’ve always been uncomfortable with the notion, suggested by some, that I enhanced or at least shifted George’s career.  

Make no mistake… George was a prolific painter and artistic genius long before I came along.  I don’t deserve credit for anything but the easiest and most natural of realities --- I loved him.  That is all.

(pictured:  Hot Dog Halo 1995, George's first painting of me, and Blue Hands circa 2000 by Mignon Wolfe, because sometimes I place my hands on hers, and she's there--- as they hang at this moment in my bedroom-)

I’ve often heard that when a person loses their life’s partner that their friends drift away, not knowing how best to help or relate to the situation.  Because I was in a focused moment during George’s last weeks of life and in a foggy moment for much of the past two years, I never thought about this in terms of my own situation.

Upon reflection, however, the truth is that in my case, friends tried, with genuine concern and affection, to help.  I was the one who pushed them away.  It could even be said that I abandoned them, unable to face mine and George’s world--- the world that is represented by New Orleans, Carmel, and our many friends--- without him.

I know it’s selfish of me.  People have explained that in shutting them out, I’m enhancing their pain.  I’m a link to George.  I have been for a long time.  Over the years many people befriended me with hopes of growing closer to him.  That never bothered me, because I too wanted to be close to him.  I understand, perhaps better than anyone, this desire to be in his world!

It is for this reason that I’ve committed to returning to New Orleans and, to some degree, a public life.  It’s the right thing to do --- for George, for our friends, and for his fans and collectors.  At this time, it’s not a permanent or even long return, but it is my biggest leap so far in this direction.

I’ll be in Louisiana early December visiting schools with the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, opening the new Blue Dog Café in Lake Charles, signing books at the UL Press Holiday Book Sale and, along with my stepsons André and Jacques, hosting a New Orleans gallery reception.  

If these moments transcend, placing myself and others firmly on a new road lined with George's visions and dreams, I’ll return more often, and maybe, just maybe, find a way once again to call Louisiana (and eventually, Carmel) home.


Pictured above, Wendy's Beach, 2013 by George Rodrigue, an unrealized design for metal found on George's computer; click photo to enlarge-

-Please join me in the moment for next week's public events.  In both cases, I’ll be signing The Other Side of the Painting, a book I wrote about George’s life and art, donating 100% of my proceeds to the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, including college scholarships, art supplies for schools, and arts integration through Louisiana A+ Schools:
---December 1st  (Tuesday) in Lafayette, Louisiana:  UL Holiday Book Sale at the UL Alumni Center, 600 E. St. Mary Blvd. 5-7 p.m. FREE. Details linked here-
---December 3rd (Thursday) in New Orleans:  a reception honoring George Rodrigue, featuring the special exhibition “Louisiana Graveyards” at Rodrigue Studio, 730 Royal St. 6-8 p.m. FREE; please r.s.v.p. gus@georgerodrigue.com.  Details linked here-

-In addition, in the spirit of the moment, I’m now posting on Instagram-

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Saints on the Bayou

“As I grow older, my mind expands. I suspend reality on my canvas with greater confidence, exploring not just the trees and grass, but also the mysterious and the mystical.”-George Rodrigue, 2012

(Saints on the Bayou, 2009 by George Rodrigue, now available as a fine art print; click the photo to enlarge this beautiful late landscape, painted on canvas with water-based oil, 15x30 inches)

From his earliest Landscapes and throughout his paintings of Cajuns, Blue Dogs, and the late figurative works, Bodies, George incorporated his fascination with Louisiana’s cemeteries into his artwork.

Along with shrimp boats and oak trees, these “Cities of the Dead” were among his first subjects once he “got serious and abandoned any thoughts of a real job” (he used to say)--- dedicating his life to painting.

(pictured, Untitled, 1971 by George Rodrigue, 24x12 inches, oil on canvas; click photo to enlarge-)

“The tombs seem to float above the ground to reveal the relationship between living and dead, states which are not that different ---at least to the Cajuns, who really do live with the dead.”--- George Rodrigue, The Cajuns of George Rodrigue (Oxmoor House, 1976).

This interest in tombs transitioned easily within the Blue Dog Series.  The first Blue Dog painting, in fact, includes tomb-like stepping stones, referencing the loup-garou, a mythical Cajun ghost dog or werewolf said to lurk in cemeteries.

(pictured, the first Blue Dog painting, Watch Dog, 1984 by George Rodrigue, 40x30 inches, oil on canvas, full story here-)

In one of his last paintings, He Stopped Loving Her Today, George again visits this motif:

"I wanted to paint a tribute to George Jones," he explained.  "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."  Read more-

(pictured, He Stopped Loving Her Today, 2013 by George Rodrigue, 60x40 inches, acrylic on canvas; click photo to enlarge-)

George’s parents were the youngest of a combined twenty-four siblings.  As a result, the young artist grew up attending funerals.  He recalled his mother, devout in her Catholicism, white-washing the tombs of her parents on All Saints Day in his hometown of New Iberia, Louisiana, and he often helped his father in the family business, “Rodrigue’s Portable Concrete Burial Vaults.”

South Louisiana’s recurrent flash floods occasionally caused problems, and in some cases the tombs floated from their plots.  Wearing rubber waders and carrying a sledgehammer, young George knocked the corners from the floating tombs, sinking them for good.

“I call this painting A Safe Place Forever" (1984, pictured above), explained George.  “When I was a child, a flood swept through the great Atchafalaya basin, carrying with it everything that wasn’t nailed down or buried (and you can’t bury much in the swampy bayou).”

 “When the waters receded, I was among the first to discover a large stone casket cradled in the branches of a huge oak tree.  The people in the parish took this as a fearful omen, and so there the tomb stayed for many weeks, haunting us from its perch.”

(pictured above, Spirits in the Trees, 1992 by George Rodrigue, 33x23 inches, original silkscreen edition of 85; story here-)

(pictured above, A Sea Chest of Secrets (Pirate Jean Lafitte), 1984 by George Rodrigue; oil on canvas, 40x30 inches; story here-)

Throughout his career, George explored the supernatural in his artwork.  He painted the Cajuns as though they are ghosts, floating, often without feet, and yet locked into the landscape and framed by the trees.  Cut off at the top, the near-black oak creates interesting shapes beneath its branches.  The small bright sky represents the hope of a displaced people.

(pictured, The Day We Told Tee Coon Good-bye, 1976 by George Rodrigue, 24x36 inches, oil on canvas; click photo to enlarge-)

Although they live in what should be darkness beneath the trees, Rodrigue’s figures glow from the inside, illuminated by their spirits and culture.  They are timeless, mysterious and otherworldly.

In the case of Walking After Midnight (2004, pictured above), George combined a photograph he took at voodoo queen Marie Laveau’s tomb at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans, with a photograph he took of me, staged before a solid backcloth within his California studio.  In this highly structured design, he added his signature oak tree, balancing the composition for both his original painting and, ultimately, the large-scale print currently on view within “Louisiana Graveyards.”

The painting, as with most of the Bodies canvases, consists of a flesh-toned, natural nude figure on a black and white background.  This enabled George to manipulate the colors and saturation in his computer before printing the final artwork.  The result is some fifty unique images from the Bodies Series on canvas, paper, and metal, ranging in date from 2003 to 2013 --- many of which reference cemeteries.

“I try to show that the tombs and the people are very much alike,” explained George.  “They both are suspended.  They both are painted the same.  They both have the same texture, and they both are locked in South Louisiana.”  


*Saints on the Bayou (2009), pictured at the top of this post, is available as a fine art silkscreen, issued November 2015; estate-stamped edition of 250; contact Rodrigue Studio or email info@georgerodrigue.com for details-

-pictured above: “Grotto on Rampart Street,” photograph by George Rodrigue, 2002-

-pictured throughout this post:  selections from “Louisiana Graveyards,” a unique exhibition featuring original Rodrigue paintings from 1971-2013, on view through December 19th, 2015 at Rodrigue Studio, New Orleans; details here-

-please join me, along with George's sons André and Jacques, at Rodrigue Studio New Orleans for a reception honoring George Rodrigue and these unique works;  Thursday, December 3rd, 6-8 p.m. RSVP and more information- gus@georgerodrigue.com or (504) 324-9614

-meet Jacques Rodrigue and Mallory Page Rodrigue, son and daughter-in-law of artist George Rodrigue, signing and presenting two new books -- Rodrigue:  The Sanders Collection and The Alchemy Never Starts or Never Stops -- at the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge this Saturday, October 31st, 3:00 p.m.  Details here-

-see the links under "Rodrigue News" at the upper right of this post for a listing of current museum and gallery exhibitions featuring the art of George Rodrigue-

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