Conversation With George Rodrigue

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George Rodrigue began his career as a painter in the 1960s. His famous series of Blue Dog paintings was inspired by a Cajun folktale. Rodrigue recently spoke with Scholastic Art about his successful career. 

SCHOLASTIC ART: What got you interested in art?

GEORGE RODRIGUE: I grew up in a rural community in Louisiana that had no art programs or museums. When I was in third grade, I became ill with polio and had to stay in bed all summer. My mother gave me a paint-by-numbers set to entertain me. I didn't like the idea of painting in little numbered sections, so I flipped the board over and painted what I wanted on the back. And from that point on, I just kept painting.

SA: How did you turn painting into a career?

GR: When I was in art school in the 1960s, people thought that if you wanted to be an artist, you had to be a commercial artist so you could make a living. After art school, I worked at a small advertising agency. I didn't like it, and I realized that painting is what made me happiest. So I just decided to become a painter. And once I made that decision, I was free to do what I wanted, and I didn't have to answer to anyone. I found that very exciting.

SA: What ideas did you first explore as a painter?

GR: I wanted to capture the things that I remembered from Louisiana from when I was growing up. So I painted Louisiana landscapes as if looking at them under an oak tree, with very muted, dark colors that conveyed an air of mystery. I was very influenced by Cajun culture and the colors of the Louisiana landscape.

SA: How did you start painting the Blue Dog?

GR: The Blue Dog came out of the Louisiana landscape paintings. I started painting the Blue Dog as a part of different landscapes of Louisiana, most of which were dark nighttime scenes. The dog is from a Cajun legend that says that if you're not good during the day, the dog is going to get you at night! At least that's what my mother told me when I was growing up. Eventually, I dropped the Louisiana landscape concept but kept the dog as a separate entity. I made the dog bluer and bluer, and the colors around the dog brighter. The blueness of the dog dictated the brightness of the surrounding colors. So I jumped from a dark, dreary landscape to a very bright pop-art, contemporary color palette.

SA: What is your process for making a painting?

GR: Each painting is a different world. Sometimes it starts with composition, sometimes with color. When I first put something down on the canvas. Then, my second decision is based on what I just put down. So I react to what I've done. I'm always reacting or going in the direction of what I already have on the canvas. Sometimes I have an idea of what the painting is going to look like, but I don't always get there. Something else happens. I have to be fluid as I go, to be excited about what I'm doing.

SA: What skills do you need to succeed as a painter?

GR: You have to be sincere in what you do. Your work has to come from what you really love. Also, you have to train yourself to have a good work ethic. You have to be dedicated and paint a lot of pictures, because that's the only way you're going to learn.

SA: What can teens do now to prepare for a career as an artist?

GR: Try to start thinking in terms of creativity and not just talent, because talent and creativity are two separate things. A lot of talented people don't take chances because they are afraid of going outside what they think they can do. But creativity is always outside of that box. You have to be very creative, take chances, and find your own path.

SA: What do you love most about your job?

GR: Well, I love that I'm still doing it! [laughs]

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