“This blue dog came in my mind and changed everything. And then it hit a rocket ship, and then bang,” says artist George Rodrigue.
Struggling Cajun artist George Rodrigue catapulted into fame with his novel idea of the blue dog, which now sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars worldwide, and appears on paraphernalia, including advertisements, good will campaigns for humanitarian aid, and even has its own books.
“No one tells me what to paint and how to paint,” Rodrigue said in a CBS interview in May 2008. The artist places the blue dog in the bayou, reflecting the quaint life of a past that is fast disappearing. Until fair recently, he had not received as much critical acclaim as fame, but coinciding with his death in late 2013 due to a two year battle with lung cancer at the age of 69, the fame of the artist has sky rocketed.
In the CBS interview, Rodigue states the blue dog is based on a creature from a Cajun fairytale called loup-garou, of a werewolf, that strangely resembled the Rodrigue family dog, Tiffany. The legend of the Loup Garou is an old French legend about a ghostly, werewolf type dog, handed down to French Canadian immigrants and eventually to the Cajuns of Louisiana, possibly as a story to get children to behave.
When Rodrigue started painting the blue dog, he added a a twist: he turned the dog blue with startling yellow eyes.
“Early blue dogs are not as vivid or as stylized as today, and they were… When I realized that the blue dog was in itself an idea, I did not need the [Cajun] landscapes anymore. Really, what is a blue dog about? So I invented what the blue dog was about. it is a vehicle to comment on life today, and so that’s where I ended up, and that’s where I am today, ” said Rodrigue.
The blue dog paintings, as they have come to be known, evoke a lighthearted depiction of a more profound memorialization. Oftentimes, artists find inspiration in depicting the reality of their surroundings, and what comes to influence them- their surroundings in fact.
We can see it Cuban artist Ana Mendieta’s recreations of lost space through her performance art in the Silueta series in the 1960s, in the controversial mural depicting Trotsky and Marx in Diego Rivera’s designs for Rockefeller Plaza in NYC which reflected his socialist political leanings in 1932. We can see it in Rivera’s partner Frida Kahlo’s work, where depictions of herself, and her bedridden experience after a tragic accident informs her craft.
What Rodrigue achieved, with the blue dog paintings, is something similar. The subject of the portraits are always the same, and their intent attention is attuned to the person interacting with them, the viewer of the paintings themselves. In this frontal depiction, we are left with feelings of confronting the same image over and over, but always with different contexts. The captions diffuse the tension in the photographs, and the blue dog is always presented to us in a cheerful and jovial context.
This was the first blue dog painting, and the ones below showcase a small sampling of this wonderful artist’s tribute to his surroundings, culture, and also using an idea and expanding it in unforeseen manners:
Through the course of his career, we can see the transformation and political commentary emerge through the vehicle of the blue dog, and often in order to make concrete social impact.
On 9/11, Rodrigue deviated from his blue dog paintings, “America’s got destroyed and America has got attacked. We are all sad about it. All the color has dropped out of me. I have no color left,” he says, about the powerful image of a white dog with red eyes, set against the backdrop of the American flag. He made a print and in two weeks raised half a million dollars for the Red Cross.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Rodrigue showcased his do-good self again, raising US $ 2 million for rehabilitation efforts in the city, with a familiar image of the Mardi Gras: a masked blue dog.
You can see the shifts in the landscapes clearly with the depiction of the blue dog in Hawaii.
I’ve been fascinated with the blue dog paintings since being introduced to them by a colleague during a lunchtime gathering several months ago, and was sad to find that the artist died less than a month after I discovered him. His exhibits can be seen in Carmel and Louisiana, if you’re around there.
Prints and more details of the Blue Dog artist can be found on the George Rodrigue Studio website.