CAJUN ARTIST HAPPILY SINGIN’ THE BLUES

11 Mar

By JOHN DeMERS 

It’s been a quarter-century since I sat in Chef John Folse’s now-gone restaurant Lafitte’s Landing in Donaldsonville, La., and admired the dark, atmospheric paintings of Cajun life adorning the walls. Now I know what they reminded me of: gazing at a stranger’s old photographs from another era and knowing that everyone in the pictures is dead. That day, I only knew I loved the paintings, and I told the chef so.

“Hey,” he responded, with a slightly wicked grin. “You wanna meet the artist who did those?” 

“Why, um, sure,” I said, uncertain what level of field trip he had in mind. 

John Folse rose from his seat. “That’s good,” he said. “Cuz he’s sittin’ right over there.” 

That was the first time I met George Rodrigue. The second time I met him was last week, and he was lots of money, at least two famous presidential portraits and one strange-eyed Blue Dog richer than he had been that afternoon in Donaldsonville. For the most part, he doesn’t paint scenes from Cajun folklore anymore. He’s way too busy painting that Blue Dog. 

Last week I sat down and recorded a Houston ArtsWeek radio show with the nationally renowned Cajun artist, most famous for but by no means limited to his Blue Dog series of paintings. We talked about the upcoming three-day celebration of his newest art and cultural attractions.  The city-wide unveilings, entitled Rodrigue’s New Orleans, will take place throughout the New Orleans area March 19 – 21.  Rodrigue, who lives in the city’s colorful Faubourg Marigny with his wife Wendy, will be in attendance at all functions taking the opportunity to visit with his collectors. 

For the first time in his career, Rodrigue owns a space all his own, and will host the Grand Opening of this new French Quarter gallery during the unveiling weekend.  Located in an historic setting adjacent to St. Louis Cathedral, the longtime Bergen Gallery has been gutted and redesigned to specifically showcase Rodrigue’s artwork spanning his entire career, including oversized pieces as large as 14-feet across, and works from his private collection. 

“We enjoy the fellowship and interaction that comes with these events,” says Wendy Rodrigue. “More than anything, we hope people will find a personal connection to the artwork, something beyond George’s intent, something inward and poignant in their own lives.”

In addition to the Grand Opening, the weekend will feature a second-line parade to the gallery, a “come-in-your-best-blue” costume party at the recently re-opened Blue Room at the Roosevelt Hotel, a 1940’s swing party at the National World War II Museum’s Stage Door Canteen, a lecture and painting demonstration by George, and a visit to the giant three-dimensional 30-foot steel, aluminum, and chrome Blue Dog sculpture, recently installed in the suburb of Metairie. 

The three-day event package includes a three-night stay at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, access to all events, receptions and parties, and a limited edition signed Rodrigue silkscreen valued at $1,800.  The cost of the package with hotel room is $2,500 per couple or $1,500 per person.  Package price without hotel room is $2,000 per couple or $1,000 per person.  Price includes food and drinks at all Rodrigue’s New Orleans events and transportation to and from all Rodrigue’s New Orleans events from the Sheraton.  Space is very limited; reservations may be made by calling 504-324-9614 or online at www.bluedogevent.com

These days, Rodrigue is able to paint exactly what he wants to paint, whether that’s the Blue Dog inspired by his earliest encounters with Pop art by Andy Warhol and others, or the eerily prophetic abstract pieces called “Hurricanes” that he launched in 2000, five years before Hurricane Katrina decimated the city. He spends a lot of his time focused on the efforts of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, which awards scholarships in art education to gifted Louisiana high school seniors. www.georgerodriguefoundation.org

Now, after 20 years of leasing a much smaller gallery space in the French Quarter – right across the street from his new gallery, in fact – Rodrique is a business and real estate owner in the city he loves. His famous Blue Dog doesn’t really smile, even when he’s presumably happy about something. It’s now George Rodrigue’s job to smile for him.

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