“To find her you must lose her. The Blue Dog knows the way.” –Blue Dog, 1994
In March of 1992 journalist Bridget O’Brian interviewed George Rodrigue for an article, front page, center column, in The Wall Street Journal. Although George had no control over the content, O’Brian allowed him one special request. Without hesitating, he replied,
“Please say that I’m looking for a publisher.”
-click photo to enlarge-
On the day of “How Many Dogs Can Fetch Money?,” my Carmel, California home phone rang at 5:00 a.m. with the news. Long before the internet, the Rodrigue Gallery phone continued ringing for a month. At daybreak I purchased ten newspapers from the Carmel Drugstore, where two men asked for my autograph. I was flabbergasted.
In addition to clients, reporters, and publishers, George received the one call he most wanted. The following week he flew to New York and met Roz Cole, Andy Warhol’s legendary book agent.
Mrs. Cole lined up several meetings, and the challenge began:
“What is a Blue Dog?” asked the publishers. “Is this a children’s book? Will people buy a book of Blue Dog paintings?”
I wasn’t in on those meetings, but after years of working with publishers I imagine what it was like. George grew frustrated defending his work and convincing the book world of his project’s marketability.
Eventually, Viking Penguin committed to a Blue Dog book, and George and I committed, coincidentally, to each other. This landed me, albeit peripherally, in my first publishing project. We began at Viking’s offices in New York City in the fall of 1993. The book, Blue Dog, would feature Rodrigue’s paintings and an imaginary story by George and author Lawrence Freundlich. In a large boardroom, a team of editors, art directors, and marketing strategists explained the book, a paperback retailing for $20.
George sat dismayed and considered abandoning the project. They still did not understand his work. A cheap book only cheapened his art, and he had no interest.
Suddenly, Peter Mayer, Penguin Books’ near-mythic CEO, burst in the room. In five minutes he transformed the paperback into a hard cover book with slipcase, hologram, and other special features, retailing for $50. He congratulated George on his art, leaving the room as fast as he arrived, having altered permanently a project and attitudes.
The book, with an innovative design by Alexander Isley, tells a touching story of Blue Dog, first as Tiffany living in George’s Lafayette studio and, following her death, her ghost’s cry for his attention. In the fictitious tale, she haunts his dreams and eventually lives again through his art.
“When I had finally begun to paint Blue Dog alone in a world of her own kind, I sensed that Blue Dog was giving me my freedom — freedom not so much to love but to accept love from the infinite bounty of a dog’s heart. I might be her master, but to my own master I was only a servant.” –Blue Dog, 1994
(pictured, Tiffany Remembers the ’70’s, 1992, oil on canvas by George Rodrigue, 36×24)
Viking printed a cautious 5,000 copies of Blue Dog, released fall of 1994. The book’s popularity surprised nearly everyone but George, and the publisher reprinted quickly, now topping 200,000 copies in five languages. Blue Dog is a legend in the world of art books, something people still talk about when we visit New York.
Since Blue Dog, George published books and calendars with Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Harry N. Abrams, Sterling and Rizzoli. He embraces these books as works of art, reflecting his on-going confidence in his vision and his enthusiasm for such projects.
Today, unlike the early Cajuns and Blue Dog years, the pressure’s off. Rodrigue meets annually with Roz Cole and publishers, producing new projects according to his whims, including children’s books and wall calendarsin recent years, as well as numerous collaborations in the form of loaned artwork for publications such as Ken Wells’ Rascal(Knopf, 2010), Deb Shriver’s Stealing Magnolias (Glitterati, 2010) and In the Spirit of New Orleans (Assouline, 2012), the recent A Unique Slant of Light: The Bicentennial History of Art in Louisiana (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2012), and….
…..I’m delighted to share, a Fall 2013 project for me with UL Press.
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