George Rodrigue (1944–2013) was born in New Iberia, Louisiana. At the age of nine, he was bedridden with polio and began to paint and draw to pass the long hours. His parents and teachers saw promise in these early works and encouraged Rodrigue to continue creating art. In 1963, Rodrigue traveled to California to study at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. There, he realized that the history, ways of life, and stories of his childhood were completely foreign outside of his home state. Returning to Louisiana in 1967, Rodrigue set out to capture the distinctive elements of his homeland and the Cajun culture. He began with paintings of Louisiana bayou landscapes, later introducing characters from the turn of the century: Cajuns as they were before outside influence altered their way of life.
Rodrigue is best known for his Blue Dog paintings. The canine icon was first conceived in 1984 as an illustration in Bayou, a book of Cajun ghost stories. The dog, tinted blue-grey from moonlight, was based on Rodrigue’s studio dog, Tiffany. She was intended to represent the loup-garou, the Cajun werewolf. Viewers were enamored, dubbing her the “Blue Dog,” which Rodrigue appreciated. Rodrigue made innumerable works with his Blue Dog, from portraits to international advertising campaigns.
In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city of New Orleans, Rodrigue created a series of four prints to raise funds for the nonprofit Blue Dog Relief: George Rodrigue Art Campaign for Recovery. Sales of this print featuring a watery American flag benefited the Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the Red Cross. “The Blue Dog is partly submerged, and its eyes, normally yellow, are red with a broken heart,” Rodrigue wrote in September 2005. “Like a ship’s S.O.S., the red cross on the dog’s chest calls out for help.” The artist’s campaign ultimately raised $1.5 million for the ravaged city
George Rodrigue, We Will Rise Again, 2005. Silkscreen print, 28 1/2 x 20 1/2 inches. Gift of E. John Bullard. Louisiana Art & Science Museum Collection, 2014.012.001
Like Noel Rockmore, Rodrigue transformed his illness with polio during his childhood into an opportunity to create artwork and practice painting.