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Louisiana artist George Rodrigue dedicated his new book Blue Dog Speaks “To Brother Edward Scanlan, who threw me out of class for drawing.” Brother Edward was a Christian Brother who taught Rodrigue in high school and sometimes threw him out of class for practicing his future vocation.
“He passed away a year ago; he was 97,” Rodrigue tells Hair Balls in his soft Cajun accent. “You know, once you’re with the Christian Brothers, they always hound you for money. When I first became known as painting the blue dog, they came to me and they wanted some money. I said, ‘Brother, look, I’m gonna give you these 20 prints. They’re very valuable. You can make a lot of money with them.’ They told me, ‘No, Brother Edward doesn’t want that, he wants some money.’ Then the next year he came back to buy some prints.”
Like most Louisiana residents, Rodrigue has spent the last three years getting over Hurricane Katrina. “Our whole staff lost everything. We were actually in Houston doing a show when the hurricane hit, so we didn’t have time to evacuate. Everything everybody had left behind was lost. I lost my warehouse in New Orleans. We didn’t get back to our house for a year and a half. It’s just in the last six months been getting back to normal,” he says.
Part of that “getting back to normal” has been the recent publication of the 500 pageBlue Dog Speaks
, a collection of paintings printed on the right page, paired with the painting’s title on the left. “I wanted the titles to be just as important as the paintings,” Rodrigue says. “In all the other books, the titles were either in the back of the book or really small underneath the painting. And the titles are very important to my paintings, they complete the story.”
So why does Rodrigue focus on the blue dog that has now become his signature? “The blue dog, before he was a blue dog, he was a Cajun folk lore tale called the loup-garou. When I was a child, my mother would tell me that if I wasn’t good today, the loup-garou would come get me tonight. I painted the first paintings with the loup-garou, this mad werewolf dog. Over time, he became the blue dog. The paintings in the book are from over a 25 year period, from 3,000 paintings.”
Two of the almost 250 paintings included in the book deal specifically with Texas. The first is Be a Big Dog in Texas, a simple close-up of the blue dog against a yellow background, the title written across his chest. “That painting was done for the “Katrina Show,” I call it, in Houston. It was at the McClain Gallery, the weekend before Katrina. It was a very, very large painting.
“I’m in Austin right now and either tonight or tomorrow night, we’re meeting with the governor and he’s giving me a flag that flew over the state capital and, he doesn’t know it, I’m giving him that Big Dog in Texas print.”
The second Texas painting is Orange, Texas, a blue dog sitting next to an orange circle. The story behind that? “I’ve been driving Highway 10 for forty years (laughs). Orange, Texas is right before I get back to Louisiana. When I get to Orange, I know I’m almost home.”
As Brother Edward and the Christian Brothers came to find out, Rodrigue’s paintings and prints are excellent fundraisers. “God Bless America
, that’s the one I did for 9/11. We were in California when that happened and that night I went to the studio to try to forget what I’d seen all that day. I started to paint a blue dog, and I did. It was like too happy, so I decided to put the eyes red and put the American flag in back of it. And still, it didn’t seem right. So what I did was paint the dog black, and that looked too morbid. So I actually I went to white out the black of the dog. I was left with just the black lines and the white dog and that looked like all the color had drained out of the dog. We took that and made a print of it and through our personal e-mails we started selling it and we raised $500,000 in two weeks.”
Then Hurricane Katrina hit and once again, Rodrigue was asked to create a series of prints to be sold as fundraisers. “It took me about six weeks to really recoup. It was so emotional and so personal, that it was very hard to produce the first one. The first print was We Will Rise Again. I had raised money for 9/11 so we knew how everything worked with the Red Cross and we actually gave the first couple of hundred thousand dollars directly to the person in New Orleans who went and bought food so there was no (laughs) filtering down of the money.
“The second one was Throw Me Something FEMA. They were all comments on the problems that New Orleans was having during those first six months. We ended up with seven different prints. Over two and a half years, we raised two and a half million dollars for Katrina relief.”
Here’s hoping Rodrigue doesn’t have to do any more fundraisers for a while. – Olivia Flores Alvarez