The River is the Road: Paintings by George Rodrigue

Born and raised in New Iberia, Louisiana, George Rodrigue (1944-2013) received his formal training at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now UL Lafayette) followed by the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, California. Unlike his classmates, he risked returning home, bravely choosing Louisiana over California and New York to pursue a career in painting. The year was 1969, and Rodrigue felt compelled, he said, “to graphically interpret the Cajun culture,” something the young artist recognized as disappearing in a modern world. His keen observation regarding his heritage, as well as the landscape of Southwest Louisiana, led Rodrigue on an extraordinary artistic and personal journey over the next 45 years. Furthermore, his simple, heartfelt decision to return home to Louisiana ultimately catapulted him to world-renowned status.

Rodrigue noted in his book, The Cajuns of George Rodrigue (1976, Oxmoor House), that when the Cajuns arrived from Canada following Le Grand Dérangement in 1755, “The waterways of Louisiana were the highways. We had no roads; we just had the water. They were the natural fairways for commerce, development, and everything necessary for settlers to expand.”

In Rodrigue’s paintings, the roads and rivers blend as one, and are one and the same. Rejecting the spacious sky of traditional European-style paintings, he pushes a large oak to the front of his canvas, cropping the top of the tree so that the light shines in the distance and is small beneath the branches. In hundreds of his paintings, it is a river or road that invites the viewer into Rodrigue’s imaginary world, one that feels like Louisiana, and onto a painted path that leads to a symbolic, hopeful light.

When the Blue Dog enters Rodrigue’s world, his paintings become increasingly more colorful, reflecting changes in his life and outlook. Unlike the black bayous of his Cajun paintings, Rodrigue’s Blue Dog interpretations are surreal in both design and color. Oftentimes the rivers are blue, red, yellow, and abstracted, blending and swirling almost indiscernibly with the land and sky. Ultimately, paintings from the last year of Rodrigue’s life, as featured in this exhibition, ponder his life’s journey as never before, borrowing from the symbolism of his early paintings and the optimism of his later ones. In these intensely personal expressions, Rodrigue once again invites us into his world with a river, this time contemplating not only his life’s journey and artistic legacy, but also, with hope and curiosity, the next part of his adventure.

Organized by the Life & Legacy Foundation and Art Tour with Wendy Rodrigue

IMAGE:

He Stopped Loving Her Today (2013)

Acrylic on canvas

Collection Wendy Rodrigue