“…And laughs all the way to the bank?” Mr. Pierce you have hit the nerve with your last line in your column on why George Rodrigue is so controversial. Just why would he be laughing?
I have known George for decades and always admired his earlier works; “The Aioli Dinner” is a masterpiece, one of the best paintings to come out of Louisiana. And I assert that Rodrigue found an essential truth about this region when he painted his landscapes in a brooding manner. I have seen that brooding landscape often myself when photographing over the years.
But somewhere along the way Rodrigue changed as an artist. His early works portrayed Cajun ancestors much like ghosts, almost glowing in a brooding landscape. The paintings effectively conveyed a sense of a time beyond reach from the present, but still within memory.
But over time, that landscape became simply a background for any portrait, be it Huey Long, or Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev. That is fine, but I feel it devalued the integrity of George’s original vision. Rodrigue, himself, even poked fun at all this; I remember one painting where he paints the brooding landscape as a stage backdrop.
Are the countless versions of the Blue Dog, same dog, same stance, same expression art or cartoon? Nothing changes or evolves with each painting except the background, be it the White House and Congress, or anything else. Key constant, that blue dog.
A good while back, Rodrigue painted another version of the Aioli dinner. In this version, the viewer looks down on the scene from overhead, but in this painting the figures are far more simplistic, the landscape far less intriguing. It is totally lacking in the depth of the original, like a bad sequel to a great movie. It is a Rodrigue, no doubt, but also a barometer, a marker of where he was artistically and where, in my view, he has taken it.
George has done well financially, no doubt. Many people still value his work. Ultimately, I feel they are buying the name.
Perhaps it’s time to curb the blue dog, and for Rodrigue to unleash the artist within that started it all.