The Sketchbook

I titled this post and immediately laughed, because it reminded me of “The Reunion,” “The Body,” “The Therapist,” or any number of episode titles from “Matlock,” my latest mindless television escape.

It was in 1960 that Coach Raymond Blanco, husband of former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, famously threw George Rodrigue out of class for drawing.  He sat in detention in the hallway of Catholic High in New Iberia, Louisiana and, rather than repeat the assigned lines, continued sketching, already with the knowledge that he was far more artistically than academically inclined.
(pictured above, a home-made Easter card from my keepsake box, originally torn from George’s sketchbook, 1994;  not even he recalls the meaning of ‘poping’)
Today he piles his old sketchbooks to the ceiling, all shapes and sizes stored in his warehouse, studios, and even his closet, a new one always on his desk.  Some are leather-bound and small for his pocket, while others are 36-inches, made of tracing paper, and protected in portfolio cases.

Within the pages he designs cars, houses, billboards, and statuary; writes books, movies, and poetry; and draws everything from sketches for paintings to mindless doodles.
(below, pages from sketchbooks ranging in date from the early 1970s to present)

Without a sketchbook, George grabs any surface available, obsessed with graphically expressing his ideas.  At the time, he speaks of these concepts as though they are the most important projects of his life, whether he’s on an airplane, at a restaurant, or in the shower.  I awoke in the night one time and found him on the floor of our bedroom with a flashlight, the underside of a roll of wrapping paper spread out before him. 

“What are you doing?” I asked.  “It’s the middle of the night!”

“Designing a car,” he replied.  “Come see.”

Another time, he found inspiration as I left the house for an Aerosmith concert (related post here).

While on book tour for Blue Dog Man in 1999, George improvised on a long flight when he found himself without his sketchbook.  As I recall, he was inspired by Lewis Grizzard (1946-1994), author of such books as They Tore Out My Heart and Stomped that Sucker Flat (1982) and Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself (1984). 

As we flew home from a Hawaiian vacation, I recounted our trip in letters to friends and family while George drew on the back of the stationary box.  Instead of the beach, he drew his landscape, the bayous and oak trees of south Louisiana, with a pirogue waiting.  

Beneath his sketched world (above) he wrote,

“Wendy – A perty picture for a perty girl.  Signed – George Rodrigue 1995 – Day after a long vacation in the Pacific.” 

Without a sketchbook, George absconds random surfaces, even if it means the drawings might be damaged, stolen or discarded.   I was as happy as if Robert Browning himself had composed a love poem in my honor when, while installing a Rodrigue exhibition in Frankfurt, Germany, I received a package covered in doodles.

Saved today in my keepsake box, the back of the cardboard (above) reads,

“12/11/95, On a FedEx box full of Christmas goodies (fun clothes) from Janique Boutique, the shop attached to The Time is Always Now gallery.  George was in NY for his show and sent them as a surprise.  That’s a “Blue Ball” Christmas tree!” 

Tablecloths and napkins are George’s favorite sketchbook substitutes.  It was on a cocktail napkin that he designed the large-scale painted metal Blue Dog sculptures, such as the one in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art and on Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie, Louisiana.    His preliminary design included an oak tree, similar to his bronzes of the mid-1970s

In our home, I frame George’s restaurant drawings, complete with tomato sauce and coffee stains, and intersperse them with my mother’s paintings and hand-made cards, all priceless memories hanging in my office.

Recently, it was in my notebook during a visit to Marfa, Texas that George sketched a diagram of his early attempt at Minimalism.  (related post here)

And just a few weeks ago he experimented with paint-by-number as we researched together the 1950s phenomenon.  (related post here)

Yet the impromptu sketches remain my favorites, and apparently I’m not alone. George doodled twice on French baguettes at the classic New Orleans restaurant, Galatoire’s.

He drew the first in 2001 as a gift for David Gooch, the restaurant’s long-time manager.  He drew the second after a food fight in 2005 resulted in the irreparable damage visible in the photograph above (I kid you not).  Mr. Gooch stored the bread on a pillow and carefully shellacked the unusual artwork for years, now on permanent display in the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.  No doubt, Coach Blanco would be proud.
Also this week:  “A Night at the Opera,” a story for Gambit featuring George Rodrigue’s legendary painting for the New Orleans Opera Association

Thanks for reading!  Hope to see you on twitter

4 thoughts on “The Sketchbook

  1. Wendy,
    Enjoyed the blog today…and the pics of the sketches. My favorite is the paint by number–who knows? Maybe there's a painter within me yet.

    Take care!

Comments are closed.