Meet The Blue Dog

One of George Rodrigue's "Blue Dog" paintings
One of George Rodrigue's "Blue Dog" paintings

Meet the Blue Dog … a curious blue canine with bright yellow eyes.

He's been popping up in the strangest places. In fact, there's no telling where the blue pooch is going to turn up next!

It's a phenomenon that delights "Blue Dog" creator George Rodrigue:

"This Blue Dog came into my life," he laughed, "and changed everything. It just hit like a rocket ship, and just bang!, you know?"

A rocket ship that's catapulted Rodrigue from struggling artist to multi-millionaire in just a few years.

The Blue Dog stars in ads, has his own books. There's a Blue Dog Café, and three Blue Dog Galleries, where Rodrigue's original paintings fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It's a veritable Blue Dog empire that Rodrigue manages himself, with Cajun charm and a certain roguish joy that makes you think maybe HE'S the sly dog.

"No one tells me what to paint," Rodrigue told Sunday Morning contributor Benno Schmidt. "Agents and galleries want to tell you what sells best. And I don't care what sells best. What sells best is what I wanna do!"

This spring, after 15 years of commercial success, but not much critical acclaim, the art of George Rodrigue is the subject of a major retrospective at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

The Blue Dog, like George Rodrique himself, was born in Cajun country among the bayous and the live oaks.

In fact, for the first 25 years of his career, Rodrigue didn't paint blue dogs at all, but scenes from the world he grew up in, a world, he says, that was fast disappearing.

One such work Rodrigue painted from an actual photograph that he grew up with, a dinner called "The Aoili Dinner." It features his grandfather here and a couple of his sons, and all of his friends.

He also painted portraits, like this one of Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme, a friend and neighbor.

"We've done some things where he starts cooking, and I start painting, and who's to finish first, you know?"

"We race!" Prudhomme said. "And of course, mine was like eighty cents, and his was like thousands of dollars, you know?"

Rodrigue says the blue dog is based on a creature from a Cajun fairy tale, the lupe garu - a werewolf with strange eyes - but the dog also bears an uncanny resemblance to the Rodrique family dog, Tiffany.

"The early blue dogs were not as vivid, not as stylized as today," he said, as early painting showed the animals in Cajun landscapes.

At the New Orleans Museum of Art, children are shown "Watch Dog" - the very first Blue Dog painting

But gradually, the Cajun landscapes disappeared, and Rodrigue found himself face-to-face with his creation.

"When I realized that the blue dog was in itself an idea, I didn't need the landscapes any more," Rodrigue said. "So I invented what the blue dog is about. It's a vehicle to comment on life today. And so that's where I ended up. And that's where I still am today."

One comment is the "blue" dog he painted on September 11, 2001.

"This says, 'America has got destroyed, America got attacked, and we are all sad about it," he said of the strangely white dog. If it could talk it would say, "All the color has dropped out of me, I have no color left."

The next day, Rodrigue made a print. In two weeks his artwork helped raise half a million dollars for the Red Cross in New York.

When Katrina hit New Orleans, Rodrique and his Blue Dog pitched in again, raising one-and-a-half-million dollars for hurricane relief.

Rodrigue bristles at the suggestion that his Blue Dog is an old trick.

"When people see me do it this way, they realize that it's just more than a dog. Something else is going on."

He says the Blue Dog still has things to teach him, and the rest of us as well.

One thing George Rodrigue knows for sure, though: he's one lucky dog.

For more on the art of George Rodrigue visit his Web site.