|Product dimensions:||8.52(w) x 12.55(h) x 0.83(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
BLUE DOG'S BLUES
Jolie blonde, jolie fille, chère petite chérie,
Mon cher coeur, tu m'as délaissé.
Tu es partie avec quelqu'un, en Louisiane;
Tu m'as laissé dans ma douleur.
At the very heart of Cajun culture, woven into its language, its legends, and its history, is both a haunting sense of loss and an ever-hopeful sense of longing. These feelings constantly emerge in the stories and songs of French Louisianaespecially in "La Jolie Blonde," a beautiful Acadian waltz written in the 1930s by a prisoner in Port Arthur, Louisiana, as he pined for his lost love. "Pretty blonde," he sang, "pretty girl, dear little one, dear heart ... You went away with another and left me in misery." The lost blonde lover who broke the prisoner's heart is actually just the reincarnation of an even older legendthat of the young Evangeline, who stands beneath an oak tree, waiting in vain for her beloved Gabriel to return to the bayou. In many ways, the sadness of the Cajun odyssey to southern Louisiana is perfectly embodied by Evangeline; the Cajuns are a people always waiting, it seems, for their Gabriel to return.
It is in the bayou, amid such legends of lost love, that Blue Dog was born. She began, in fact, as a sort of Loup-Garouthe traditional Cajun werewolf that boys and girls were told was lurking in the swamps and river basins, just waiting to snap up children who didn't get to bed on time. Blue Dog started as a feeling, an old, deep-rooted remembrance of how I grew up. The word that keeps coming back tome is "melancholy." We were poor, yet we understood the richness of life.
Soon, Blue Dog took the form of a painted channel through which I could convey my own feelings of lossboth for my lost companion and for the elusive, fast-fading culture of Acadiana, as Cajun country is commonly known.
Since then, Blue Dog has come to represent countless other ideas and feelings, many of them humorous and whimsical. Yet what few people recognize is that, at the very essence of her being, Blue Dog has got " the blues."
Just like the first Acadian settlers, she's stuck in a place that is completely foreign to her. Sometimes, I would paint Blue Dog as my own version of the Jolie Blonde, which would immediately recall the strains of that bluesy, sorrowful tune. On other canvases, I would place Blue Dog alongside New Orleans jazz musicians, to whom playing the blues comes easy. So the blues, and in some ways the whole musical tradition of the Cajuns, is intimately associated with Blue Dog.
To understand this creation that has become the focus of my life, you've got to understand a little bit about where I grew up. My daddy was a bricklayer, a hard worker, like virtually all the Cajuns. Yet Cajuns, while they work hard, also play hard when the weekend comes around. My parents' friends would pull the knives out of their belts, stick them into the trunk of an old live oak, hang their coats on the knives, and dance. They dressed up on weekends with nowhere to go, just to meet each other. The blues were everywhere for the Cajuns. But when they danced and had fun, they did it as hard as they could. This was their release. I grew up in that hardworking, hard-playing atmosphere.
I was surrounded by older people: grandparents, neighbors, aunts, and uncles. Family was very important, and when my relatives talked about their lives, I listened. I listened when they told me how the French-speaking Acadians (the name that gave rise to the term Cajun) made the grueling journey in the eighteenth century from French settlements in Canada into the remote, swampy Louisiana delta. They told how my great-great-grandparents began to carve a life out of this difficult, flood-prone land.
The bayou was the end of the line for the Cajuns; they settled here, isolated from the outside world by water on every side, keeping their old language and culture unchanged and intact. It more or less stayed that way until after World War II, when young men began to return home bearing the knowledge of other lands and peoples. As recently as the early 1950s, people spoke mostly French around here. The Cajuns were both deeply rooted and totally rootless. Now it's all changing. When I grew up here, you could still see horses and buggies on the Abbeville highway. When I first started photographing this land in 1961, after returning from art school, it was a little like Amish country.
Back in the 1970s, when some of my first paintings of Acadiana were published, almost no one had heard the term Cajun. In fact, most people who had heard of us pronounced it Ka-yoon, ignoring the fact that the word was really just a slangy shortening of Acadian. For years, I continued to call myself Acadian, because Cajun used to be a term reserved for the poorest uneducated farmers. When I first started calling myself Cajun, people here didn't like it. In fact, many Acadians were still calling themselves French; to this day, my mother still does. It really wasn't until the 1980s, when my friend Paul Prudhomme's Cajun cuisine started getting noticed by food critics, that Cajun culture became both accepted and better understood.
One thing I discovered after I began to make a living as a painter was that I couldn't create unless the subject of my paintings interested me deeply. In this respect, I couldn't have been luckier; the culture I knew and loved gave me ample inspiration for my painting, and painting, in turn, allowed me to learn more about my culture and ultimately about myself.
I set out to paint the Cajun world armed with a peculiar feeling: I knew that, for me, beauty was a quality that couldn't be defined by a single object or being. Beauty abounds in life, but it is not born from a single source. Rather, beauty results from the unusual union of contrasting things.
Beauty, to me, is a relationship. Most Cajuns, as individual human beings, might not possess any particular beauty, but their relationship to their surroundings, to the bayous and the swampy land, and, of course, to each other is deeply beautiful. Cajuns took on a special beauty when they arrived in this odd, secluded world.
I started out with simple landscapes, trying to get a feel for how to represent the unique natural environment of the bayou. Immediately, the huge, moss-draped oak trees so common in French Louisiana became a central element of my canvasesjust as they had become a defining symbol in the life of the Cajuns.
The great oaks provided shade, shelter; and meeting places, and they often stood in the middle of a town's central square. Sometimes the Cajuns would even build a dance floor around them.
It was only after many years of painting Cajun landscapes that I was able to step away from my canvases and say, "My work embodies a departure from the norm; it's original, it's new, it s totally different. I've done what I set out to do."
It was a wonderful moment, and I could have painted in the same mode forever. But soon I felt compelled to put people in my landscapes. In my mind, the people were always there, but they were literally hidden behind the trees. I decided that, when human figures finally came out, they had to be very primitive, very defined, floating like ghosts above the landscape. I was pulling these figures out of their environment and putting them back in in a different way. My paintings began to describe a new world of shapes and formsoften unsettling, but always exciting. When my compositions became more complicatedand even when Blue Dog came alongthese same strong shapes remained.
Just like my Cajun figures, Blue Dog herself emerged from that dark landscape, out of those huge trees. In her earliest form as an incarnation of the Loup-Garou, Blue Dog had rough, slightly savage features, including glowing red eyes. Blue Dog was more earthy at first; she came out of the earth, out of the Spanish moss of the trees. Soon, though, Blue Dog began to stand apart from her environment: Her eyes changed color and her edges became more defined. Blue Dog, I realized, had to stand alone.
Her aloneness was part of the sense of isolationof floating, of having been transplantedthat for me defined the Cajuns.
As Blue Dog became more removed from her surroundings, her environment followed suit, becoming less natural-looking and more abstract, though still very much rooted in Cajun motifs. The abstraction that began to evolve in Blue Dog wasn't entirely new to me, however. Even my early Cajun paintings incorporated some of the elements of abstract expressionismespecially the breaking down of field, line, and form, and the shifting of foreground and background. You can see this effect even in my earliest Cajun paintings, where the sky, peeking through the branches of the great oaks, is not a void, but a positive shape, a projection. I began to apply this technique to many of my Blue Dog paintings. Negative space becomes positive, and Blue Dog's sense of place is made even more ambiguous.
Today, Blue Dog inhabits a world infinitely larger than the bayou where she was born. Like the Cajuns, who endured their hardships by keeping their eyes trained on the future, Blue Dog always moves forward.
Yet deep in Blue Dog's eyes there will always be a reflection of Cajun history, of the hopes and longings of the uprooted Cajun people.
More than that, there will always be the sense of a journey, an odyssey, like the one the Cajuns made more than two centuries ago.