'Blue Dog' spiritual and magically artful

January 17, 1995|By Barbara Samson Mills | Barbara Samson Mills,Special to The Sun

When George Rodrigue appeared for his mandatory promo TV interviews, audiences gasped at the prices of his simple, folk-art paintings of a blue dog, which were going for five to six figures. The subject of the paintings was Mr. Rodrigue's much loved and long-departed dog Tiffany, a black and white terrier-spaniel mix, who, a decade later, still haunts the artist-author.

Mr. Rodrigue's "Blue Dog" book packs a colorful wallop -- two gold eyes stare through the holes of the royal blue slipcover -- pull it off, and you come eye-to-eye with the larger-than-life face of the Blue Dog herself. Visually, the book qualifies as a coffee-table book. Bookstores carry it in their art-book departments, but the content leads several steps further and deeper.

This is by no means George Rodrigue's first entry into art and literature. The Louisiana-born artist has painted the scenes of Acadiana and the Cajun people, and previous books include "The Cajuns of George Rodrigue" and "Bayou." He is a resounding success, so much so that his paintings hang in the Louisiana Governor's Mansion, the residence of the president of France, the Smithsonian, the White House and museums across the country. He is an international award winner and the owner of four Blue Dog galleries.

His reputation skyrocketed in 1988, when one of his Blue Dog paintings was exhibited on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. Mr. Rodrigue said that "the painting nearly flew off the wall," for $2,500.

In "Blue Dog," Mr. Rodrigue shares his intense and very real sorrow, as he contemplates Tiffany's death in art and prose. Animal lovers will fully empathize with his reluctance to let go, but those not so inclined may dismiss this spiritual journey as patent sentimentality. In the long run, though, the dog becomes the literary and spiritual canvas that depicts man's search for love and eternity.

A friend who commiserated with the author when Tiffany died introduced Mr. Rodrigue to the Hindu symbol of a dog with four eyes, whose "two fold vision enabled it to be a guide between this life and the next." Mr. Rodrigue remembers that "in the days and nights following my first reflection on the four eyed dog and the links between life and death, my feeling of connection with Blue Dog grew ever more urgent. . . . As I painted, I felt that Tiffany's spirit was crying out for my help -- that she hadn't comprehended the meaning of her death and was wandering the spirit world in search of a peace that only I could give her."

The book's text, illustrated on almost every page with the author's expansive, jewel-tone paintings, alternates between his musings and those of Blue Dog. Dramatic graphics enhance the meaning and are as valuable as the art itself, as they add emotional impact to the text. Blue Dog complains: "It was so long before I could get on George's wave length. . . . The paintings were the key, I thought. It was in them that his soul was vulnerable and opened wide. It was there that our spirits might find a bridge across the barrier."

Almost unconsciously, Mr. Rodrigue begins to paint Tiffany and is surprised to find that instead, he has created Blue Dog: "I was amazed. . . . At first I didn't recognize Tiffany's true identity. . . . Tiffany's love. Tiffany's death. Death and love. They are either reasons to live or reasons to despair."

The Blue Dog is overjoyed: "I'd done it! I'd gotten through to him, prompted him to search for me along the byways of the imagination, which for him was truly the gateway to the soul. . . . I am become a spirit dog, a Blue Dog, in search of his master's love. And even though the path is long, we can travel it together with joy."

The artist's quest after Blue Dog ends in an understanding of a deeper truth than the love of man for beast: "and as I was to Blue Dog so was I to God, saved only by accepting His grace. We love by being loved. That is the way."

Mr. Rodrigue's evocative Cajun paintings, as well as his many versions of the Blue Dog, are flashes of brilliance and beauty. The text ends on a note of mystical revelation and gentle fantasy. We are reminded of Richard Bach's "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" and "One," where an alternate world exists, "sliding along side by side." If realists are put off by a spiritual dog who speaks, let them be reassured that in the end of "Blue Dog," it is man's spirit and capacity for love that is of the essence. In addition, the art alone is well worth the hefty price of admission.

Ms. Mills is a writer living in Monkton.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Blue Dog"

Authors: George Rodrigue and Laurence S. Freundlich

Publisher: Viking Studio Books

Length, price: 96 pages, $45

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