On view until January 2015. Text by E. John Bullard, Director Emeritus, New Orleans Museum of Art. Take a Virtual Tour via Google.
George Rodrigue is a true son of Louisiana and the State’s greatest artist. Born and raised in New Iberia in the heart of Cajun country, from the beginning his art was inspired and enriched by the landscape and people of Acadiana. After attending university in Louisiana and art school in Los Angeles, he settled in Lafayette in 1967 to paint full time. His first paintings were pure landscapes, dark and brooding, always dominated by great, moss draped live oaks, for him a powerful symbol of Southeast Louisiana.
After a few years, rustic buildings and people began to appear in his landscapes, developing into full narrative compositions vividly depicting scenes of Cajun life around 1900. Rodrigue’s paintings documented a unique and vanishing culture and were a key component in the Cajun Revival of the 1970s. Beginning in Lafayette and spreading across Louisiana, this new expression of ethnic pride and identity swept the country with its unique music, food and cultural heritage.
Of course Rodrigue is now world famous for the Blue Dog. In 1984, he was commissioned to create a series of paintings to illustrate a book of Cajun ghost stories. One was about the loup-garou, the werewolf who haunted swampy, moonlit cemeteries, which he visualized as a small scrappy dog with big ears, staring eyes, and a shaggy coat of silver-blue.
The dog soon appeared in many paintings but always placed by Rodrigue in his familiar bayou landscape. Meeting with enormous public acclaim by 1990 the Blue Dog had moved out of this native environment to become an iconic figure, brighter in color and smoother in form. In its innumerable variations the Blue Dog became a universal symbol of Everyman.
Seen straight on, in a static and unchanging pose, the Blue Dog expresses a broad range of emotions. It’s unflinching gaze may show strength or bewilderment, innocence and vulnerability; he may be poised or alarmed, serious or funny. In all his many roles he has brought pleasure and joy to countless people around the world.
From the start of his career George Rodigue by-passed the traditional art establishment, going directly to the public to present his art. As his popularity grew, the art elite seemed suspicious, questioning how anything so popular could have serious value. In the past decade, after many museum exhibitions and critical articles and books, that attitude has changed.
With his untimely death, we now must consider Rodrigue’s place in the history of American art. Two other artists have enjoyed the same public acclaim and also were long neglected by the art establishment: Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth. These three masters, while stylistically different, have similarities. Each chose to live outside the great art centers, preferring to remain in their small native towns. Each, in their own way, celebrated in their art unique aspects of the American experience. They are three of America’s great public artists.