Bayou Teche Museum, New Iberia, LA
131 East Main Street
New Iberia, LA
George Rodrigue (1944-2013) built his artist studio in the hills of Carmel Valley, California, in 2001. It was the first and only studio he built from the ground up, having previously adopted attics, spare bedrooms, and storage sheds to inexpensively suit his needs. Wide windows opened to a peaceful view of the property’s lace oaks, trees that drip with pale green moss and reminded Rodrigue of home.
Soon after the studio’s completion, a Los Angeles reporter visited Rodrigue and interviewed him. Rodrigue sat at his easel and chair, now installed here in this exhibition, when the reporter asked, “Now that you live in California, will you paint the beach, or maybe the lone cypress?”
“Why would I do that?” replied the artist, clearly surprised by the question. “My landscape is in here,” he continued, placing his hand on his heart. “And that’s Louisiana.”
Yet it was here in this central California studio that Rodrigue painted the entire abstract Hurricane Series of seventy paintings between 2000 and 2003, and where he painted God Bless America, his outpouring of grief following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In fact, for almost fourteen years this is where Rodrigue did the majority of his painting, including not only Blue Dogs, but also portraits, landscapes, and an ambitious return to painting the nude female figure— a series he called Bodies.
This studio space reflects the passion and spirit of the artist, including 1950s vintage furniture, memorabilia from past Mardi Gras celebrations, paintings from his childhood in New Iberia and art school in Los Angeles, along with quirky items he acquired “on the road,” during his frequent cross-country drives.
The intimate studio re-creation presented here is just a sampling of the full artist’s workspace. Plans are underway for a larger, more complete studio to be unveiled in a permanent gallery space within the Bayou Teche Museum at a later date. The paint-splattered plywood floor was carefully dismantled from Rodrigue’s Carmel Studio, as were his custom-made cabinets designed to hold his tubes of paint— all reassembled in this exhibition space. The easel still holds the unfinished painting he was working on when he left Carmel, California for Houston, Texas on October 30, 2013.
Sadly, Rodrigue would never paint again.
Around the exhibition space are artifacts and memorabilia from Rodrigue’s youth, including his Boy Scout days in New Iberia, as well as early student work from his Saturday classes with Mrs. Keane— items that served as inspiration and motivation for the artist. In 1962, Rodrigue enrolled at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now UL Lafayette), where he took only art classes, showing no interest in pursuing a degree. After only four semesters he applied and was accepted to The Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles (now located in Pasadena), where he became the first undergraduate student ever to be accepted at the renowned graduate school, and where he learned from professional artists, such as Lorser Feitelson, famous for his paintings within the non-objective, hard-edge movement.
In addition to hosting acclaimed artists as guest teachers, Art Center was known for graphic illustration, advertising design, and automotive design —all of which appealed to Rodrigue. While a student, he created mock album covers for movie soundtracks, including “High Noon”, seen hanging on the walls in this installation, and created short films, designed brochures. and produced advertising illustrations to sell household appliances.
Reflecting on his student years, Rodrigue admitted, “I was never the best draftsman in class. But I always had the best ideas.”
It was also while at Art Center that Rodrigue first visited Carmel-by-the-Sea, a quaint artist’s community on the California Coast. The experience had a profound, romantic effect on the young artist; and in 1991, he realized his dream and opened a gallery of his work in the seaside town.
Rodrigue’s student art is part of this installation because the pieces inspired him throughout his life, hanging on the walls of not only his California studio, but also in Lafayette and New Orleans for nearly fifty years. Throughout high school, his childhood projects, also within this installation, hung on the walls of his attic studio in his family’s home on St. Peters Street in New Iberia. Rodrigue would move these early pieces himself, hanging them on the walls of subsequent studios for the rest of his life.
Rodrigue’s widow, Wendy, and his sons, André and Jacques, are pleased to return these works to the town where they were painted.
“Louisiana, and especially New Iberia, was George’s heart,” explains Wendy Rodrigue. “His studio belongs here; and we are deeply grateful to the Bayou Teche Museum and the citizens of New Iberia for welcoming him home.”
Additionally, in 2022, the museum opened the much-anticipated George Rodrigue Park adjacent to their building featuring a three-sided Blue Dog sculpture standing over six feet tall.
This pocket park celebrates Rodrigue’s long career as a gifted artist, community leader, arts advocate and philanthropist.