Louisiana’s Blue Dog Artist

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George Rodrigue’s Blue Dog paintings and silkcreen prints have nosed their way into our American visual iconography. Ask anyone anywhere if they know the Blue Dog and chances are you’ll get a bright-eyed yes. In recognition of such a colorful, distinguised, and massive career, the New Orleans Museum of Art and Rodrigue gather a 40-year retrospective "Cajuns, Blue Dogs, and Beyond Katrina," showing until June 8. What visitors realize when roaming the multiple rooms and viewing the 200 plus original works: this man treasures Louisiana. And, judging by reception in NOLA, the feeling is certainly mutual.


Charenton’s Fishing Wharf, 1970

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Author and New Orleans native Michael Lewis (Moneyball, Liar’s Poker, and The Blind Side) wrote in the preface to one of George Rodrigue’s books: “Fishing, hunting, football, politics, oil drilling – all these might occur naturally to a boy growing up in that low country, surrounded by the dun-colored brackish marshes. Painting – well, that might be considered an unnatural act. But it was in New Iberia that the young George Rodrigue decided to become a painter. If we are to understand his art, we must ask: Why? What was it about that place that imposed itself on a boy’s imagination?”

An interview w/ George Rodrigue

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Crawfish Festival, 1984

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Rodrigue, by 1980, had made a name for himself in Louisiana. Calls came in for festival posters and fundraisers; tributes to politicians, writers, and sports heros; Mardi Gras celebrations and notable portraits. “Looking back, “ he writes, “I probably did the poster for every fair in the state. With prices as low as ten dollars apiece, they were accessible to everyone and remain commemorative and nostalgic works for thousands who collect them.”

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Aioli Dinner, 1971

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“After painting hundreds of landscapes – simple oak and sky – I began to wonder which Cajuns might walk out from behind that tree.” George Rodrigue remembers painting images of Cajuns when people in New York couldn’t pronounce the term. He captures a family supper of men here, “under the oaks,” he says, “because that’s where life happens.”

An interview w/ George Rodrigue

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Watch Dog (Loup-garou), 1984

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Based on a familiar Cajun folk tale, the loup-garou is a mythical werewolf that roams around places at night. Rodrigue remembers being told as a child to go to bed or else the loup-garou would get him. A boogie man story. The legend bore him this painting, set in a full moon landscape, which gave the dog the blue tint, and subsequently, gave the world an iconic image.

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Hawaiian Blues, 1998

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The Blue Dog went aloha for an edition of the Neiman Marcus catalog The Book. Based on Rodrigue’s former dog Tiffany, his Blue Dog motif finds its way into various geography (Golden Gate Bridge, Route 66, Washington, D.C.) and a host of situations far from the bayou (race car, black tie, and even nudes).

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Sometimes I Feel Like a Blue Dog

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“Blue Dog comes to represent not merely the artist, vicariously exorcising some private dilemma, some regret, some prayer or dream, but Everydog, i.e. Everyman, caught in the maelstrom of personal and peripheral histories.” – Michael Lewis

An interview w/ George Rodrigue

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Walking Into the 21st Century

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Rodrigue has met several U.S. Presidents: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and the current President Bush. Last week (April 22), the artist met with the President during his visit to New Orleans, where he presented a specially-designed print. In 1997, the Democratic Inaugural Committee commissioned this portrait of the re-elected Clinton/Gore ticket, which the artist calls Walking Into the 21st Century.

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Blue For You: White, 1993

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An interview w/ George Rodrigue

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God Bless America, 2001

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The night of 9/11, George Rodrigue stayed up until dawn painting. He finished God Bless America around 5 a.m. Rodrigue mentions the universal fear, shock and sadness of the day seen in the colorless Blue Dog with red eyes. "I realized here that my paintings could really help people," he said. Prints of this work raised $500,000 for the relief efforts. I find the several silkscreens and original paintings  where the Blue Dog is woven into patriotic backgrounds to be quite fitting, recalling Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol.

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Quicksilver, 2007

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“For all its temptation or forebearance, Blue Dog in these thousand scenarios is never shown shifting his expression to a smile, never complacent, never asleep. As if it is still searching for those answers for itself, its creator, and all of us. And throughout, it maintains an uncanny vitality, a kind of inner vigil or undying light. That of quest, which makes for its deep animal appeal. So that we imagine the reason we want Blue Dog with us: To remind us of what we cannot but still someday hope to know.” – Michael Lewis

An interview w/ George Rodrigue

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