George Rodrigue’s Blue Dog sculptures are amongst his greatest artistic achievements. This month, in the garden of the Acequia Madre House Museum in Santa Fe, we installed George’s first public artwork in New Mexico. The 11-foot sculpture, made of steel, aluminum, and chrome, includes a unique chatoyant effect produced by three distinct shades of automotive ‘flip’ paint. As with its sister sculpture in Florida, this magnificent artwork surprises in the sunshine, as though reunited by Mother Nature with its most important artistic ingredient, the light.
I watched George develop this concept of a three-dimensional Blue Dog almost as an obsession over the course of a decade. He began with the question, “How do I transform a two-dimensional artwork into a free-standing sculpture?” As I observed through George’s countless sketches, cutting-and-pasting, manipulation of shapes, and research of materials, it is, as George often said, very complicated to create something so simple.
Although the Blue Dog began with Cajun mythology and the legend of the loup-garou, it changed dramatically in nearly thirty years of development. George was already well-known for his paintings of Cajun folk life when he first painted this legend, a French-Cajun werewolf, in 1984. As he explored the concept, he also referenced the dogs he had in childhood, Lady and Trixie, and most often his studio dog, Tiffany, who had died years before, but whose shape and stance he adopted within his art.
Over time, the dog on his canvas became, as George often noted, “something else.” The Blue Dog is not, and never was, a character. It’s not a little dog sitting at one’s feet. It doesn’t run or bark, or even have a back-side. Prior to this sculpture, as well as similar pieces currently installed at the New Orleans Museum of Art, the George Rodrigue Park in New Iberia, Louisiana, Scenic Hwy 30A in Rosemary Beach, Florida, and an astounding 28-foot interpretation on Veterans Blvd in Metairie, Louisiana, the Blue Dog existed only in two-dimensions. Seeing his sculptures realized as public art was incredibly exciting for George— and certainly a career milestone.
As important as the sculpture’s shape and scale are its materials, construction and, for this piece, its paint. Unlike George’s other sculptures, in which each side is painted a different primary color of blue, yellow, and red, this particular Blue Dog is hardly blue at all —at least, not all of the time or from every angle.
Working with Begneaud Manufacturing in Lafayette, Louisiana, George employed within this work his love of shiny 1950s chrome-type reflective surfaces, as well as automotive paint and sealer.
In later sculptures, such as the one in Santa Fe, George explores creative possibilities beyond the artwork’s basic construction. Specifically, he becomes excited about experimenting with paint. The automotive ‘flip color’ reflects the light —changing the artwork’s effect depending on the time of day, the weather, where a person stands while studying it, and maybe even one’s mood. Regionally, the New Mexico light affects the sculpture in a way that differs from Louisiana.
With this sculpture, George Rodrigue transforms his artistic creation into a dynamic, surprising, ever-changing statement and symbol — an impetus for contemplation that is far beyond anything we might recognize as a dog.
As a result, this sculpture is not only one of George Rodrigue’s greatest artistic accomplishments, it is also a powerful and important 20th century American Modernist artwork. It is an ever-evolving, luminous, wondrous treasure.
-please join me Wednesday, June 15, 2022 for an official dedication of George Rodrigue’s “Colors of My Mind” at the Acequia Madre House, 614 Acequia Madre, Santa Fe, New Mexico; 12:00 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.