Blue Dog No More
All dogs go to heaven, especially blue ones painted by Louisiana artist, George Rodrique, 1944-2013. Sadly, we learned over the weekend the iconic artist and his Cajun symbol, the Blue Dog, died at age 69, in Houston, Texas, from a long struggle with cancer.
Rodrique recreated Louisiana’s exalted cajun loup-garou (werewolf legend) into a pop art icon, the Blue Dog. For years people marveled at the folk-art style paintings of a blue dog on vivid pink or green background surrounded by simple colorful flowers and indigenous trees. The canvases were famously viewed and sold in New Orleans and Los Angeles galleries. Neiman-Marcus sold Blue Dog prints and original paintings in their exclusive Christmas catalog.
Who was George Rodrique, the artist and, what was his story?
Rodrique was born in New Iberia, Louisiana, and studied art in his home state and at the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. His signature theme was Cajun landscapes and Cajun folk art traditions. When he was commissioned to paint a Cajun ghost story in 1988, the artist remembered the warnings of his mother. If he didn’t behave, the werewolf would get him. To finish the commission he used the dog in his studio as his model and what was to be the focal point of the painting narrative. The stories and paintings became the Blue Dog series. Why they were blue we can only guess. Was it Rodrique’s early folk art influence or, perhaps like Andy Warhol and Peter Max, bright colors fit into the 80’s pop culture genre of disco gaudiness. After the Blue Dogs were exhibited in Los Angeles, George Rodrique was forever identified with the blue canine. He then spent years explaining and defending his popular blue dog series in the name of ‘fine art.’
It just so happens, last summer on a marathon road trip through the South, I found myself in Lafayette, Louisiana, at the Blue Dog Cafe, George Rodrique’s stomping grounds. The Cajun influenced restaurant walls were covered with Blue Dogs and Rodrique’s Cajun landscapes. It was hard to tell if anyone was aware they were dining under world renowned art works. People in Lafayette are obviously accustomed to the Blue Dog. I was the only tourist running around the dining area trying to capture individual works on my little camera. Food, not art in the restaurant, was definitely the focus.
My brother informed me the restaurant menu was not necessarily influenced by the artist, nor was it founded on Rodrique family recipes. The restaurant simply paid to use the artist’s name (he is tenderly known in every nook & cranny in the Bayou country) and agreed to hang his work. Whatever, or however they were there, I was definitely impressed to be sitting under probably one hundred (big & small) Rodrique paintings. At the same time I questioned who hung the varied collection. They were hung randomly side by side, high and low with little thought for presentation or lighting. The framing was atrocious. It horrified me but like the merits of the southern fried pie, the pie itself is damn good. You can’t buy a blue dog at the 7-11 but you can buy an abundance of locally made fried pies. These half-moons of heaven are filled with creamy fillings of chocolate, apples, peaches, lemon custard tucked inside a brown, crispy-flaky pinched pie crust glazed with crunchy sugar icing, I regress. It stands alone just like the blue dog paintings in the cafe.
The photos I took above were on the walls, within half way decent shooting distance to avoid disturbing the hearty eaters who didn’t even flinch nor look up from their plates as I scooted behind them. God Bless the Blue Dog and George Rodrique. We were in Louisiana for God’s Sake. Here’s what we had to eat.
We’d been on the road for 9 hours when we arrived at the Blue Dog Cafe. I had resisted a fried pie from Dallas to Alexandria and I was hungry, real hungry the last hour and a half. At the BDC (Blue Dog Cafe) my brother suggested the corn & crab bisque as a starter with a cold beer. No problem. The bisque was creamy and spicy with just enough whole kernel corn to add a hint of real corn flavor; the shredded crab bloated the soup bowl making me wonder did the chef aerate the liquid. It was completely divine with a dash of Louisiana hot sauce and a swig of beer, I was ready for bed.
The main courses we ordered were absolutely cajun inspired. The chicken Bayou Teche was exquisite. This is the description from the menu: Seafood stuffed chicken breast topped with our bacon rotel cream sauce. Served with dirty-dog rice, corn maque choux and vegetable du jour.
My brother had crawfish tasso alfredo sauce. From the menu it said: Crawfish and spicy Poche’s tasso combined in a classic Alfredo cream sauce and served over a bed of angel hair pasta with vegetable du jour. Pasta with a Cajun twist!
Chip who is forever fat, mega-3, trans-fat and salt conscious splurged a little on the blackened catfish. His was the lowest calorie count on the menu but was super delicious. Menu description: Louisiana Catfish fillet, seasoned with a special spices then seared to get that zesty blackened flavor. Served alongside angel hair pasta with a lemon butter sauce and vegetable du jour. Side note. We took the leftovers home and somewhere in Mississippi the next day we opened the heavenly scented styrofoam container. The one who watched his calorie intake the night before oohed & aahed and longed for more crawfish tasso aflredo.
I didn’t get my fried pie (lemon is my favorite) that long travel day, but at the BDC we settled on sharing the bread pudding with pecan praline sauce. So everlastingly tasty, sweet and rich and plenty to savor until next trip to Blue Dog country.
God Bless, George Rodrique. Not many artists become an icon, create an icon or choose to live in bayou country with mysteriously, beloved blue dogs. For this artist the bayou was the beginning and end to his remarkable life. Thank you, George, for bringing such happiness and recognition to Louisiana through your art. R.I.P. the world will take good care of your beautiful blue dogs.