Not Painting in Carmel

We’re in Carmel, California for a few days before heading to San Jose to begin the book tour. George Rodrigue has had a gallery in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea since 1991, and we purchased a home here in Carmel Valley in 2000. Rodrigue built a studio on the property soon after.
I’ve been waiting around and gently hinting all week for him to spend some time at his easel, thinking I would watch him work and take some photos and share the whole thing with you.

But alas, he’s just not into painting this week. As I mentioned, we’re only here a few days, and I’m sure that’s the reason for his lack of inspiration, not that he hasn’t been inspired to do other things – like email plans and ideas to the architect at the new Royal Street gallery, and work on framing and installation strategies for his upcoming project at the WW II Museum, and take pictures of the wildlife that also live on this hill, quite oblivious to us, since they call this place home far more often than we do.

Usually George needs a big block of time (or on occasion, a looming project deadline) in front of him in order to paint. When we spend several months here, he paints anywhere from ten to fifteen hours a day, because it is here in the country on this sunny, quiet hill that he does most of his painting.

George has always had an attachment to California. In the mid 1960s he attended art school at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles (quite exciting at that time, since it’s when Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans premiered at the Ferris Gallery, to the art professors’ and critics’ horror, and to the art students’ amazement). He took several drives up to Carmel in those years, where he found a (an extreme now long gone) Bohemian type art community, full of artists in residence and people escaping from city life, appreciating the wondrous beauty of this western edge of America, the mountains meeting the ocean, and a tiny town hiding in the fog.

He became attached to the place, and he formed a dream to live and work here one day. And like most George Rodrigue dreams, he made it happen, first with a gallery, and then with a home —- not a mansion on the coast, but a hidden spot on a mountain top, with land (eighteen acres) and sunshine (just on the other side of the near-daily Carmel fog bank) and animals — lots and lots of animals.

Just yesterday we saw two great horned owls as they sat at the edge of our pond-like pool, watching the sunrise over the valley. Soon afterwards a bobcat arrived to quench its thirst. And this afternoon the daily line-up of thirty or more quail bobbed their heads and squeezed together for a drink (although they had plenty of room to spread out), protecting their little ones in the center — so cute because they look exactly like the adults, but about three inches tall.

We also have the occasional invasion of wood rats, however that’s way too long a story and better saved for the next time they become a problem (as in, they move into the house), although I do share with you below George’s Halloween rendition from 2007, put together from a particularly large rodent that lived with us in the house for four days before it ended up in the ‘rat-zapper.’

Although this year’s visit was short (we were here for a month mid-summer), most years we spend three months or so escaping the hot southern summertime. George wrote about Carmel back in 2002:

“Once there, I settle in to do some painting, which always reflects the relaxed, sunny atmosphere of Carmel. The climate and landscape of California, in fact, has had a profound effect on the look of my Blue Dog paintings. The same creation that was once steeped in the somber hues of the Louisiana bayou has become inseparable from California summer sunshine.”

And yet, note his reply after a reporter asked him a great question several years ago:

“Now that you paint in California, will you paint the Lone Cypress, the beach, the California oak?”

I sat paused, waiting for George’s answer. We chose our house because it is in the middle of an oak grove. Unlike the Louisiana Live Oak, these trees grow from their knots after a tree falls. They drip with moss, and their branches, unlike the heavy, weighted-with-history oaks of Louisiana, spread like skinny, graceful fingers towards the sky.

George seemed surprised by the question. And easily he responded,

“No, why would I do that? No matter where I am in the world, my landscape is in here (hand on heart), and that’s Louisiana, that’s home.”

So here in Carmel, where he painted the entire abstract Hurricane series of seventy paintings between 2000 and 2003, and where he often paints outside on the deck, surrounded by mountains and the California oak tree, he paints the designs and shapes swimming in his head. He paints, always, Louisiana.

Yet it’s not Louisiana as much as it is his Louisiana – like no one else’s, and also affected by his travels, by the people he’s met, by his curiosity about the stars and fate and déjà vu.

This exchange, indeed this entire post, reminds me of a quote from Persuasion by A.S. Byatt (1990), a book I’m nearly finished with, and which is probably the most Victorian thing I’ve read since Jane Austen. Yet the quote fits and is perhaps the best way for me to end this ramble, since I felt compelled to blog this week, and I was forced to find an alternative direction, because The Master never once sat at his easel. From page 290:

“Outside our small safe place flies Mystery.”


4 thoughts on “Not Painting in Carmel

  1. Loved the photos – Carmel seems like a heavenly retreat. Artist's wife as graceful doe, quietly nosing around whatever beauty she finds, was a perfect end to the blog post. And the AS Byatt book…..I do hope you've enjoyed it.

  2. Thank you, Rhonda! A.S. Byatt's been a slow but wonderful read for me (after three months, I should finish this weekend), but some days I only linger through one long poem or several days of diary entries. And it's the most quotable thing I've read in ages. From page 201: "I have made myself foolish enough and put my dignity wholly in your hands."

  3. Dear Wendy,
    Thank you for sharing a glimpse of your lives in Carmel. As fans, Christy I have often wondered what the mountain home was like after hearing so much about it. I can why so much creativity is fueled by its ambiance. I hope our paths cross again in the near future.

    Brock Boutte
    Husband of Deaf New Orleans Artist Christy Works-Boutte

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