Spirit of the Game
May 18- September 18, 2016
730 Royal Street
New Orleans, LA
This special exhibition celebrates George Rodrigue’s love of sports and includes original artwork borrowed form private collectors. The installation spans forty years, with subjects ranging from horse racing to football, as well as portraits of baseball’s Ron Guidry, basketball’s Bob Pettit, and The Spirit of the Next Hero (1985), featuring past Olympic gold medalists.
A print by George Rodrigue features the Blue Dog with Saints Quarterback Drew Brees. This special edition of 250, off the market since 2007, is signed by Rodrigue and Brees, and available only during this exhibition. Proceeds benefit the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, a non-profit organization advocation the arts in education.
One does not need to be a “sports fan” in the conventional definition of the phrase to appreciate camaraderie and the sense of team spirit that accompany sporting and gaming activities. George Rodrigue was a staunch supporter of his alma mater UL’s Ragin’ Cajuns, known during his Lafayette school years as USL, and earlier as the Southwestern Louisiana Institute (or SLI), represented in this exhibition within paintings of baseball and women’s basketball based on early team photographs.
Rodrigue often cited LSU football’s national championships in 1958, 2003 and 2007, together with the Saints’ Super Bowl victory in 2010 as the greatest sports moments during his lifetime — a sentiment shared by many Louisianians. For LSU, Rodrigue used his artwork to raise $1 million towards constructing a new habitat for the team’s mascot, Mike the Tiger. And following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he partnered with the New Orleans Saints and Quarterback Drew Brees, whose portrait is included in this exhibition, to raise millions of dollars for Gulf Coast humanitarian relief.
Later this summer, the eyes of the world will be looking to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad. At that time, our nation will come together and cheer on our Team USA, united not by individual schools or states, but celebrating a national pride that only the Olympic games can foster. Rodrigue’s large-scale painting, Spirit of the Next Hero (1985) honors past Olympic Gold Medalists while romanticizing the spirit of the next Olympian, which he portrays as a confident female athlete. “I’m a naïve surrealist,” noted Rodrigue, defending his design. “I’m not a sports artist.” — an important distinction while considering the forty-year span of paintings highlighted in this exhibition.
Growing up in New Iberia, Louisiana, gaming and sporting events were part of everyday life for Rodrigue. Whether pigeon racing, rooster fights (illegal in Louisiana since 2007), duck hunting, bourré card games, or traditional team sports such as baseball, basketball and football — all were deeply embedded in the Cajun culture. As a young boy, Rodrigue attended “match races” in Abbeville, where horses and jockeys were pitted against each other. Many of these races were “claiming races” — where if you won the race, you also won your opponent’s horse.
From the early days of his career and throughout his life, George Rodrigue was a painter of his beloved Louisiana. He portrayed the disappearing Cajun culture in a contemporary way. He painted characters of the past who still exist today, and like their ancestors, enthusiastically embrace their sporting traditions. Drawn from numerous private and public collections, this exhibition honors the tradition of sports and gaming in Louisiana, and pays tribute to George Rodrigue’s lifelong love of the spirit of the game.
“One man brushes many lives. The bigger the man, the wider the brush.
That was certainly true of George Rodrigue”.
— Hall of Fame baseball pitcher, Nolan Ryan
Rodrigue: The Sanders Collection (2015)