The Perks of Being Blue: George Rodrigue
American artist George Rodrigue was a Southerner, a landscape artist, and a working-class gent whose series of Blue Dog paintings put him on the art world radar in the 1990s. What started as a painting inspired by Cajun folklore quickly turned into an art phenomenon and Rodrigue painted little other subject matter after the success. While you may recognize the dog, let’s share a little more about the man.
Here are seven fun facts about the life and art of George Rodrigue:
1. He was born near the Bayou Teche of Louisiana
Rodrigue was born in New Iberia, Louisiana in 1944. The lush landscape of his roots would majorly impact most of his early work, primarily landscape paintings that depicted Cajun lifestyle and culture. Below is one of his most famous, non-Blue Dog works, The Aioli Dinner, which illustrates a Cajun family gathering in a bayou setting. Rodrigue painted the work in 1971.
2. Tiffany was his original Blue Dog in 1984
In 1980, Rodrigue was commissioned to illustrate a book of Louisiana ghost stories to be sold at the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans. This book was called Bayou and Rodrigue painted forty canvases in reference to the characters and places featured in the stories. In one tale called Slaughterhouse, the narrator tells of an evil dog guarding a house. Inspired by Cajun legends of a loup-garou or werewolf, the artist created the first Blue Dog from the photo of his deceased pet Tiffany. Tiffany’s features would continue to serve as the model for all of Rodrigue’s subsequent Blue Dog paintings.
3. The eyes were an important detail
When discussing the public reaction to his Blue Dogs, Rodrigue explained his intent in an iconic interview with The New York Times in 1998: “I’m surprised by people’s reactions,” he said. According to Rodrigue it is not unusual to have people stare at the Blue Dog paintings and cry. “The yellow eyes are really the soul of the dog,” he said. “He has this piercing stare. People say the dog keeps talking to them with the eyes, always saying something different.”
His use of yellow eyes with the Blue Dogs would continue, including high-profile commissions such as paintings for former President Ronald Reagan and for former President Bill Clinton.
4. He supported relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina
In 2005, Rodrigue launched Blue Dog Relief, producing an original series of silkscreen prints, raising millions of dollars for his local American Red Cross.
5. He had a wildly popular retrospective in 2008
In 2008, the New Orleans Museum of Art held a forty-year retrospective of his work, showcasing more than 100 artworks. Over 60,000 people came to view the exhibit, entitled “Rodrigue’s Louisiana: Forty Years of Cajuns, Blue Dogs, and Beyond Katrina”. In addition to his paintings and prints, the exhibit also presented some of Rodrigue’s large-scale sculpture and ceramics.
6. He founded the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA) in 2009
In an effort to promote art education for youth organizations, Rodrigue set up his own non-profit foundation in 2009. The organization continues to promote and protect his legacy while also engaging the community in varied art endeavors – from workshops to theater to supper clubs.
7. He died in Houston in 2013
Rodrigue passed away in December of 2013 in Houston, Texas at the age of 69. His funeral was held in New Orleans at a historic cathedral in Jackson Square and was well attended by the community. Former Louisiana governors Bobbie Jindal and Kathleen Blanco both spoke at the service.