Visual Arts

"When You See a Blue Dog Painting, It Really Makes You Happy" - Don Sanders

The art of the late George Rodrigue, famous for his Blue Dog paintings, is arranged chronologically in the satellite gallery at West Ave., allowing the viewer to follow the artist's path from dark Louisiana landscapes, to portraits and scenes from Cajun life, to the illustration of a ghost story with a loup-garou. This mythological French/Cajun werewolf, modeled after his dog, eventually morphed into the familiar two-dimensional Blue Dog, leading Rodrigue on a journey to international acclaim, long-lasting friendships, philanthropic pursuits, and the establishment of a foundation that supports art education programs for youth.

Born in New Iberia, Louisiana, his early landscapes always included the land, sky and an oak tree, avoiding the traditional bird's eye view. He began to paint Cajun legends, like Evangeline from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's A Tale of Acadie, as well as a series of Jolie Blondes inspired by the traditional Cajun waltz. As he evolved as an artist, Rodrigue captured scenes from Louisiana life, including dancing, outdoor dinners, portraits and his children.

In the 1984 book Bayou, by Chris Segura, Rodrigue produced illustrations for 40 short stories. For the story about the loup-garou, a Cajun boogeyman of sorts, the artist worked from a photograph of his dog Tiffany. Rodrigue continued to paint this dog, over and over, at first with the formulaic oak tree but later without. The dog became friendlier, more welcoming, and evolved into the familiar two-dimensional image that has captured the hearts of children and adults around the world.

Local businessman and animal advocate Don Sanders, a noted art and photography collector, began collecting the paintings and, after meeting George Rodrigue, they became lifelong friends. This Houston-based exhibit includes 20 paintings from the private collection of Sanders. A new art book entitled Rodrigue: The Sanders Collection features 100 Rodrigue paintings and a foreword by their mutual friend, Baseball Hall of Famer, Nolan Ryan. A quote by Don Sanders is included in the book, "Why do I have so many Blue Dog paintings by George Rodrigue? Because when you see a Blue Dog painting, it really makes you happy."

On the night of September 11th, 2001, as all of America watched in horror as the news of the four coordinated terrorist attacks unfolded, Rodrigue took up his brush and painted God Bless America, portraying the dog without any color, the blue joy drained out, and the eyes turned red with a heavy heart. He produced 1,000 prints and donated the proceeds to the Red Cross, raising a half million dollars.

After New Orleans flooded from Hurricane Katrina, Rodrigue painted We Will Rise Again, portraying a partially submerged Blue Dog with a red cross on its chest; sales from the image resulted in two million dollars for hurricane relief.

It is ironic that the fumes from his oil paints most likely caused his chemical Hepatitis, forcing the artist to shun the oils and turn to acrylic paint. It was only in the last few years of his life that he discovered water based oil paints, allowing a return to the saturated colors he loved so much. He spent the last 18 months of his life here in Houston, undergoing treatment for lung cancer.

The George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts has arranged for 20 local schools to tour this retrospective exhibit, and 20 area schools will receive $1,000 in art supplies. The exhibit also includes paintings on loan from the family's private collection, some of which have never been seen outside of Louisiana.

Rodrigue: Houston continues through July 5, at 2800 Kirby, 2nd Floor, open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.,

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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney