“What are you thinking about?” I asked George, following hours of silence. “The road,” he replied.
After dozens of cross-country journeys together over twenty years, his answer was always the same. So I stopped asking, and pondered, instead, his answer.
George wasn’t speaking of the asphalt, although he did reminisce about old Route 66 and the way it hugged the terrain. He was more likely to note the O’Keeffe clouds, the long shadows, the golden light, the far horizon, the WEST.
(pictured: Santa Fe Sky, 2013 by George Rodrigue, an unrealized design for metal found on his computer; click photo to enlarge-)
During these long hours in our truck, through his dedication (as opposed to discipline) at his easel, and by the way he stared from the hill behind our house in Carmel Valley, George taught me about the moment. It came naturally to him. He was always in it.
(pictured: Rodrigue in Studio, 2011 by George Rodrigue; click photo to enlarge)
I don’t think I fully understood the moment until the last few months of George’s illness. Encouraged by his doctors and by my own optimism, I honestly believed he was going to pull through. I didn’t imagine it or dream it as a possibility; rather, I thought about him, and about us, in what I now think is the same way he thought about the road.
There was less worry concerning what might or might not happen then there was in just being with what was happening. Something as simple as holding hands or exchanging a look became the whole of the experience.
My last post was “normal and informative about George and his art,” noted my sister, “like the old days.” I knew it couldn’t last, though, as I’ve struggled to post something, anything, in recent weeks. You see, it’s the holidays, eleven years since Mignon and two years since George, and it’s complicated. This moment calls for something else —- something just as true in fact, but even truer in sentiment.
I recently saw the movie/documentary Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict and reflect again on my role, such as it is, in life, in the art world, and in George’s world. I don’t have her name, nor her money. Although I collect art, I’ve never thought of myself as a “patron” of the arts, as a Peggy Guggenheim who discovers, nurtures, and takes credit for the likes of Pollock and Calder and Ernst. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the notion, suggested by some, that I enhanced or at least shifted George’s career.
Make no mistake… George was a prolific painter and artistic genius long before I came along. I don’t deserve credit for anything but the easiest and most natural of realities — I loved him. That is all.
(pictured: Hot Dog Halo 1995, George’s first painting of me, and Blue Hands circa 2000 by Mignon Wolfe, because sometimes I place my hands on hers, and she’s there— as they hang at this moment in my bedroom-)
I’ve often heard that when a person loses their life’s partner that their friends drift away, not knowing how best to help or relate to the situation. Because I was in a focused moment during George’s last weeks of life and in a foggy moment for much of the past two years, I never thought about this in terms of my own situation.
Upon reflection, however, the truth is that in my case, friends tried, with genuine concern and affection, to help. I was the one who pushed them away. It could even be said that I abandoned them, unable to face mine and George’s world— the world that is represented by New Orleans, Carmel, and our many friends— without him.
I know it’s selfish of me. People have explained that in shutting them out, I’m enhancing their pain. I’m a link to George. I have been for a long time. Over the years many people befriended me with hopes of growing closer to him. That never bothered me, because I too wanted to be close to him. I understand, perhaps better than anyone, this desire to be in his world!
It is for this reason that I’ve committed to returning to New Orleans and, to some degree, a public life. It’s the right thing to do — for George, for our friends, and for his fans and collectors. At this time, it’s not a permanent or even long return, but it is my biggest leap so far in this direction.
I’ll be in Louisiana early December visiting schools with the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, opening the new Blue Dog Café in Lake Charles, signing books at the UL Press Holiday Book Sale and, along with my stepsons André and Jacques, hosting a New Orleans gallery reception.
If these moments transcend, placing myself and others firmly on a new road lined with George’s visions and dreams, I’ll return more often, and maybe, just maybe, find a way once again to call Louisiana (and eventually, Carmel) home.
Pictured above, Wendy’s Beach, 2013 by George Rodrigue, an unrealized design for metal found on George’s computer; click photo to enlarge-
-Please join me in the moment for next week’s public events. In both cases, I’ll be signing The Other Side of the Painting, a book I wrote about George’s life and art, donating 100% of my proceeds to the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, including college scholarships, art supplies for schools, and arts integration through Louisiana A+ Schools:
—December 1st (Tuesday) in Lafayette, Louisiana: UL Holiday Book Sale at the UL Alumni Center, 600 E. St. Mary Blvd. 5-7 p.m. FREE. Details linked here–
—December 3rd (Thursday) in New Orleans: a reception honoring George Rodrigue, featuring the special exhibition “Louisiana Graveyards” at Rodrigue Studio, 730 Royal St. 6-8 p.m. FREE; please r.s.v.p. firstname.lastname@example.org. Details linked here–
-In addition, in the spirit of the moment, I’m now posting on Instagram–