"When he'd take pictures of his dog in the past, he'd always get down level with her instead of taking the photo from above. He didn't like the idea of looking down upon another creature,"
Many may know George Rodrigue as the Blue Dog artist, but he has also painted Jolie Blonde and Evangeline more times than you can count on both hands.
On December 14, 2013, George Rodrigue passed after a long battle with lung cancer. In 2017, wife Wendy Rodrigue began the Life & Legacy Tour. The tour began as a way to connect Louisiana students to the art of George in a more personal and intimate way. So many schools requested her presence, that she decided to extend the tour indefinitely and now travels all across the United States to present George's legacy. She visited the LSU Women's Center on November 8.
At the beginning of the presentation, Wendy presented A Basket of Roses from 1986 of Evangeline that George had painted. She dedicated it to the LSU Women's Center, where the painting has now found its permanent home.
From an exert that Wendy read, George said, "Evangeline was one of my first paintings of the Cajun people and their history. If I could paint the most famous legend, then I could capture the anxieties and worries of the people. I can see the whole Cajun culture in Evangeline. An anxious, beautiful, hopeful girl."
Many of the figures in George's paintings do not have shadows, and often times they seem as though they have been cut out and pasted onto the canvas. He did this because he felt these people were glowing from within, and the light was shining out from them because of their culture. The light that these people show in the paintings represents hope and gives them the ability to create life in the swamps.
"George was impacted greatly by the visual changes of the land in Louisiana after he spent some time in California. He ultimately changed the way people did landscape paintings of Louisiana. He believed that our skies were small because we would look at it from under the trees. To represent this, George would cut the tree at the top in his paintings, which also created interesting shapes," Wendy said.
You can see the way George cut the trees at the top in the Evangeline painting, because the tree doesn't continue beyond the edge of the canvas.
The Blue Dog was another big signature of George. He used the blue dog to comment on life today, as well as the future, instead of reflecting on the past. The past was reflected in most of his Cajun paintings.
"You can see that the Blue Dog is never down at your feet in his paintings. She is always eye level and painted as a person. This is because George saw everything as equal in his life. When he'd take pictures of his dog in the past, he'd always get down level with her instead of taking the photo from above. He didn't like the idea of looking down upon another creature," Wendy said.
George liked to paint abstract concepts, and one of those concepts included a swirl in a lot of his paintings. The swirl represented creativity and imagination as he aged more. When he first began using the swirl, though, he used it as a way to represent hope in the Cajun culture.
Aside from painting, George also had the honor of writing his very own book called The Cajuns. It was published in 1976, and he wrote it in one day.
"The publishers wanted $75,000 dollars to print the book, and he had to pay for it himself. With only $400 dollars in the bank, he wrote a check to the publishers. He knew he had to cover the rest of the $74,600 dollars, and I remember him bringing paintings to people he knew would probably buy them. He also ended up getting a loan for the remaining amount he needed. Then, by the following Tuesday, he had enough for the check to clear, and the publishers printed the book. Once he got the book, within three months, he was able to pay back the loan. The Cajuns was the very first book that was published in the United States that was bilingual, so it was pretty popular very quickly," Wendy said.
The book was chosen as the official United States State Department gift for visiting foreign heads of state during the Carter Administration.
You can find out more about Wendy's touring, as well as where she will be next, at https://georgerodrigue.com/life-legacy/today/. During the week of November 12, she will be in Oklahoma.
Follow Darian on Twitter @dariangshark.