Note: I reworked this post in July 2011. To see my favorite painting and George Rodrigue’s least favorite painting (pictured at the bottom of this post) in person, visit the exhibition “Blue Dogs and Cajuns on the River,” July 23 – September 18, 2011, at the Baton Rouge Museum of Art at the Shaw Center. For a list of related museum events with the artist, visit here.
The Loup-garou is my favorite painting.
I first saw it on a Sunday afternoon in 1991, a day that changed my life. I walked into the Rodrigue Gallery in the French Quarter to visit a friend, the gallery manager. At the time, I worked at Ann Taylor while attending graduate school at Tulane University, and I worried as my college job morphed into my future. If I didn’t take a chance, I might lose the art world.
That day I sought advice regarding museum work. My undergraduate studies at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas focused on the Northern Renaissance. Contemporary art was far from my mind, and my exposure to modern art was limited to the Vienna Secessionists of early 20th century Austria, a passion honed during eight months at the American University in Vienna. (For related posts, see “Indiscretion: A Nude Addendum” and “A Night at the Opera”)
(pictured, a painting by Netherlandish painter Hans Memling, 1430-1494)
My exposure to art began with my mother’s paintings and her treasured art books, followed by the King Tut exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1977, and even the craft tents at the Pensacola Art Fair and Destin Seafood Festival. How did I miss the artistic gene, I wondered. Where do I get that thought, ability, and expression? Where do I find the guts to take something from in here and put it out there? (notwithstanding this blog…)
In 1991 I knew nothing of George Rodrigue or his art. I’d never been to Lafayette nor visited his gallery in the French Quarter.
The minute I stepped through the Rodrigue Gallery door, I stared at the far wall and a 6×4 foot canvas. Without thinking, I touched it. I was stunned by the power in this painting, by the idea of some hand applying and blending the goopy paint just so, by an artist making something all about, and yet not the least bit about, one strong shape.
I learned later that this was George’s first painting of the Blue Dog by itself, removed from the Cajun background. I didn’t even recognize it as a dog.
“What is it?” I whispered to my friend.
“It’s the Blue Dog,” he said.
Within a week I left both Ann Taylor and graduate school and worked full-time with the Loup-garou in the Rodrigue Gallery. (Read the history of the Blue Dog here.)
Within six months I moved to California, my first visit to the West coast, where I spent six years at the Rodrigue Gallery in Carmel-by-the-Sea. I called my friend,
“Please send me the Loup-garou.”
“No way. Too expensive to ship.”
I asked until he agreed, and the Loup-garou hung by my desk for two years until my co-worker Sandra sold the painting. At $50,000 it was our biggest sale to date in Carmel.
In 2002 George shocked me with the Loup-garou, returned by some negotiation still unknown to me, and the painting hung in our home for the first time.
As I write this, I exchange a stare with my painting. I’m as confused and mesmerized and weak-kneed as I was twenty years ago.
(pictured, Rodrigue’s Blue Cameo Glass Vase sits on a table in front of the Loup-garou in our Faubourg Marigny home; for more on the glass works, visit here)
Great paintings take on a life of their own, beyond the artist’s intent or the owner’s collection, or even (perhaps George’s most frustrating battle) some collective assumption about them. The greatest works of art pose questions long after the artist’s death. Consider Degas’Yellow Ballerina, Picasso’sLes Demoiselles d’Avignon, and Monet’s Water Lilies. Similarly,I’m amazed, considering my current vocation, at my continued fascination with artists such as the Limbourg Brothers, pictured below.
(1385-1416, click photo to enlarge; note, each of the links in the above paragraph relate to posts about those artists and George Rodrigue).
The reason the Blue Dog lasts is not because it’s a dog. I like dogs, but I’ve never had one, nor am I a ‘dog person.’ The Blue Dog lasts because it’s painted and designed well, because it’s rooted in twenty-five years of Cajun paintings, because no matter how long we wait, it won’t explain itself, and because, more than anything else, it is painted by George Rodrigue.
I’m not talking about George’s appealing manner or ‘marketing genius’ (a naysayer’s backhanded compliment), nor his artistic intent or commentary. I’m talking about something far more complex and unique to him: his style.