Mary Tutwiler

George Rodrigue returns to Acadiana

by Mary Tutwiler

It’s been over 40 years since Acadiana native son George Rodrigue began painting. First landscapes, then Cajuns, Blue Dogs, hurricanes and now back to landscapes, the prolific artist has enjoyed a meteoric career. His pop icon, Blue Dog, has brought him worldwide fame and the kind of riches most artists will never see. His work has been shown in galleries, and lately museums all over the world. Through it all, Rodrigue has maintained a down-to-earth demeanor and an endearing, self-deprecating sense of humor about the whole hubbub.

Yesterday, a Rodrigue painting, Hear the Blues, See the Blues, Sing the Blues, valued at between $30,000 and $60,000, sold for $170,500 at auction at Sotheby’s, the most expensive painting of the lot.

Not since 1970 has the artist been given a museum show in Lafayette. UL dean of the College of the Arts, Gordon Brooks, set out to rectify that oversight. He named Rodrigue a  2009 recipient of the SPARK Lifetime Achievement Award, which will be presented at the culmination of the college’s Festival of the Arts, on April 4. Brooks invited the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum and the Acadiana Center for the Arts to join in honoring Rodrigue by hosting shows.

The UL museum responded by unearthing a collection of about 20 paintings from the 1970s in its permanent collection, which had never been shown before. The ACA sent out a call for local collectors to lend their art for a retrospective. The response was huge. The large gallery at the ACA will present more than 100 works by Rodrigue, and there will be a demonstration in the small gallery of how his fine art prints are made.

The UL show opened in January and will run through September. A gala opening at the ACA begins at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 14. The exhibition will run through April 26. Rodrigue will have an opening of his new work at his gallery on April 3. In May, the university will present Rodrigue, a former student, but not a graduate, with an honorary degree. The whole shebang is dubbed Rodrigue’s Acadiana, touted by the Lafayette Convention and Visitor’s Center as a major tourist attraction.

Rodrigue is enjoying his triumphant return home. You can read the story of his coming full circle in today's Independent, in a story titled Every Dog Has His Day, here. If Rodrigue ever was bitter about the years of marginalization, there is no evidence of that feeling now. The easiest way to find him in a crowd is to follow the sound of his joyous, barking laughter.