Monday, April 13, 2015

Rodrigue On Stage

George Rodrigue and I worked as a team on stage for many years. Recently, especially after he became ill, I filled in for him occasionally on my own; yet he was always there, coaching me beforehand and quizzing me afterwards.

(pictured, at the Clinton Library, Little Rock, Arkansas, 2010; click photo to enlarge-)


This weekend, for the first time, I’ll speak in public truly without him.  I’ve thought a lot about my half hour presentation----how best to represent George and our foundation, and how best to honor Louisiana’s young artists, brought together for the 6th annual GRFA Art Scholarship Awards Ceremony.  (Details and ticket info here-).

I’ve also thought about how, during my first return to Louisiana in more than a year, to face and answer questions with both the sincerity George’s fans deserve and the discretion that I require.  It’s a complicated and emotional pursuit, and I doubt I’ll have an answer... even as my plane lands... even as I approach the stage.

(pictured: Soul Mates, an original silkscreen by George Rodrigue, Artist Proof, 1997)


As long as I knew him, George lived outside of the box.  This was true in his art, in our relationship, and in his joie de vivre.  He broke rules and took chances, and he taught me to do the same ---to live by instinct and heart over establishment and expectations.

He wasn’t afraid, for example, of criticism that might accompany a short painting demonstration:

“I watched him paint that whole canvas in under an hour!” 

...exclaimed on-lookers, some impressed and some, especially after learning the price, aghast.

(pictured: A painting demonstration for the LSU Museum of Art, 2011; click photo to enlarge-)


In 1997 George and I first entertained an audience with a painting demonstration at the Red River Revel in Shreveport, Louisiana.  As he painted, I shared George’s history, while clarifying his style and approach through anecdotes.  

“I can’t talk and paint at the same time,” he laughed. 

This began a tradition, and we found ourselves in demand across the United States.  We presented similar events at the National Arts Educators Association Convention, the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University, the Phoenix Art Museum, and numerous book fairs and schools.

For these demonstrations, we geared our unscripted banter to the audience.  George used large brushes and paint straight from the tube, an approach he developed for public painting because, he admitted, 

“If I had to watch an artist paint for as long as it really takes, I’d get bored.”  

He wanted his fans to see what appears to be a complete painting materialize from a blank canvas in under an hour, even if, in reality, it was only a rough design.

Subject matter usually included both the Blue Dog and the Oak Tree ---visual aids that materialized before the audience's eyes. In the loose sketch below, for example, painted during a 2001 lecture in Houston, Texas, George illustrates the simple elements that are the basis for his paintings.

-click photo to enlarge-


Using one of his typical landscape compositions, he emphasizes three components, each of equal importance on his canvas:  tree, background, and foreground.   He used these elements to create infinite arrangements of shapes.  This was the reason, he explained, that his paintings, even as he repeated the same subjects hundreds of times, remained varied and interesting to the eye.

Note:  The number “3,” which should indicate the foreground in the sketch above, is trapped instead inside of the oak.  After the lecture, George extended the trunk of the tree so that it better filled the space, creating a new bottom line to the oak’s shape, and covering part of the original foreground space.


Following the demonstration, George returned the painting to his studio where he reworked it for anywhere from several days to a week.  In the photo above, he shares the finished painting, My Second Birthday, completed in his Carmel, California studio following a painting and cooking presentation with Chef Paul Prudhomme. (story here)

“People thought it looked good on the stage,” he said.  “But I was never happy with it and always repainted it afterwards.”

Prior to these public painting demonstrations, George’s brushwork typically was tight.  However, influenced by his style on stage, he gradually loosened his approach on some canvases in the studio as well.  As a result many paintings since the late 1990s reveal looser, freer strokes.  Eventually, George admitted that, despite hundreds of tightly controlled compositions, one of his favorite ways to paint is to simply walk up to the canvas without any preconceived ideas.  He enjoyed working out a successful design based on the circumstances of the moment, while reflecting with honesty, his psyche.

“I know it will have a Blue Dog,” he said, “but beyond that, the challenge for me is in creating and just letting it happen.  That’s why my favorite painting is always the one I’m working on now.”

It is this approach, rather than a formal speech with lecture notes, that guides me on my return to the stage this weekend.  I’ll also unveil a few rarely seen paintings borrowed from the wall of George’s home studio.  My hope is that these symbols will embody, with both their personal and historical resonance, my partner’s influence, so that I might represent him well, with genuine and heartfelt sincerity during this auspicious event.

Wendy

-please join me in New Orleans on Saturday, April 18, 2015 for the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts Scholarship Luncheon, honoring 15 finalists from more than 600 statewide entries inspired by this year’s theme, “Louisiana’s Music.”  11:30 a.m. at the New Orleans Sheraton Hotel.  Details and tickets here- http://www.rodriguefoundation.org/site479.php

-don’t miss “Rodrigue:  Houston,” a special Texas exhibition opening this month.  Details here- https://georgerodrigue.com/rodrigue-houston/




Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Petro Brothers

“Ya’ here to look or to buy?...”

…barked Bud Petro from the porch of George Rodrigue’s Jefferson Street gallery.  From a rocking chair, he watched the Esso station he owned with his brother Norman, while monitoring and, according to George, “scaring away” potential Rodrigue collectors.

“I couldn’t tell him to leave,” laughed George.  “He was part of my gallery experience!” 


(pictured, The Petro Brothers, 1978 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 30x40 inches; Bud and Norman Petro with André Rodrigue, photographed by George Rodrigue, 1978; click photos to enlarge)

George Rodrigue loved to tell and retell stories about his friends, long gone, and the Petro Brothers were among his favorite subjects for storytelling ...and for paintings.

Bud Petro (1909-1985) and Norman Petro (1917-2011) owned and operated the Lafayette, Louisiana Esso station, sharing a busy corner with Borden’s Ice Cream and Rodrigue’s Jefferson Street home and gallery. 


(pictured, Petro’s Newspaper, 1987 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 14x11 inches; rather than buy his own, Petro read George’s paper every morning, returning it to the doorstep before George, who painted all night, awoke-)

Although friends with both brothers, George spoke most often of Bud.  “Petro” was his traveling companion for many years.  They drove much of the southeast and Texas together in George’s van, carrying paintings to clients.


On one journey, while parked at a Dallas, Texas café, they returned to a broken window and missing camera equipment.  To George’s relief, the thieves left the large paintings; however, they absconded with something far more valuable (in Petro’s mind) ---- Bud’s suitcase.

“My clothes!” 

...cried Petro about his irreplaceable wardrobe.  I can hear George in my head telling the story and laughing, as he described the polyester suits and wide collars that remained Bud’s staple long past the disco craze.

“He was so upset that he wouldn’t go to dinner,” recalled George.  “I met with my collectors and didn’t get back until late. When I knocked at Bud’s motel room with a bucket of chicken, he grabbed it, shouting, ‘Well it’s about time!,’ and slammed the door in my face.”


(pictured, a photograph George labeled “Mr. Petro,” showing Bud Petro (center) with Frankie Mandola (L) and Ray Hay, photographed by George Rodrigue at Ray Hay’s Cajun Po-Boys in Houston, Texas, 1978; notice the poster of Rodrigue’s classic Jolie Blonde, 1974; click photo to enlarge-)

George wrote of the painting below, as pictured in the cookbook, Talk About Good! (pub. 1979, Junior League of Lafayette)...

“This painting portrays Ray Hay holding his Cajun Po-Boy sandwich, and beside him is Bud Petro of Lafayette, Louisiana.  The two are discussing one of the new items on the menu, Petro’s juicy fried rabbit.  The preparation of the rabbit is so secret, that Mr. Petro was flown in to Houston to teach the cooks how to prepare this Cajun delicacy.”


George often photographed and painted his son André with Bud Petro, posing them in his Jefferson Street backyard and manipulating the landscape around the figures on his canvas.

(pictured, two versions of Let’s Play Ball, 1980 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 40x30; click photos to enlarge-)


George’s favorite Petro Brothers images, however, are slides from a day among the azaleas with Diane Bernard Keogh.  He photographed Diane often and painted her numerous times over some thirty years, as Evangeline from Longfellow’s epic poem, Evangeline:  A Tale of Arcadie, 1847. (See a selection of paintings here-)

George loved these photographs and viewed them repeatedly, always laughing about young, beautiful Diane with the older, indelicate brothers.  (Note:  I had difficulty choosing here, so you get all of them; be sure to click the images to enlarge-)


These too became paintings, the last one finished the year Bud died. 

(pictured, Two Uncles and a Niece, 1985 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 24x36; click photo to enlarge-)


George’s favorite Petro story, the one he retold countless times, recalled a trip to Shreveport with Bud, as they delivered a painting to Palmer Long (1921-2010), son of Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey Long (1893-1935):

 “Don’t open your mouth...” 

...warned George, as they approached the Long house.

But as the door opened, George fell silent, stunned by Palmer, whose eyes were exactly like his father’s. 

“I knew those eyes well,” said the artist, “because I had just finished painting them.”


(pictured, The Kingfish, 1980 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 60x36 inches; click photo to enlarge, and learn more here-)

"Howdayado, Mr. Long," 

...said Bud, thrusting out his hand before George could stop him.

Without breathing, Petro blurted out, fast.....

“I wanna tell ya how much I appreciate your daddy havin’ made the highway run in front of my service station.”

Upstaged already, George realized that Palmer Long was more fascinated by Bud Petro than he was with the painting.  The two shared hunting stories, which also left out George, who was never a hunter.

As the evening wore on, Palmer showed off his prized wooden duck call: 

“Petro made a fuss over it,”

...recalled George, shaking his head.  

“Then he reached in his pocket, cupped his hands at his mouth, turned his back, and produced a far superior sound.”

Curious and impressed, Long asked to see the duck call.

“Petro turned around, slow....” 

...said George, a bit quiet and with a build-up...

 “...and then he fanned open, like butterfly wings, his empty hands.”


“Aww man," 

 continued George,

"…. it was fantastic.”

Wendy

-above:  me, imitating George, imitating Petro-

-for more on the Petro Brothers, read Norman Petro’s obituary here-

- please join me April 18 in New Orleans for the 2015 George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts Scholarship Awards; details here-

- “Rodrigue: Houston,” a special exhibition with original Rodrigue paintings spanning 45 years, opens April 25, 2015; details here-


(above, with Frankie Mandola, photographed by Diane Bernard Keogh, Houston, Texas, 2013; click photo to enlarge-)




Best Blogger Tips