A pack of dogs at the busy intersection of Union and Cleveland would usually be a traffic hazard — if not a potential canine tragedy — but when those dogs are larger-than-life murals of the famous “Blue Dog” painted by Louisiana artist George Rodrigue, it’s a definite enhancement to Midtown.
The exterior of the Union Centre building at 1331 Union had carried brightly colored murals of blues musicians for several years, according to Gloria Carson, manager of the executive suite section on the top floors of the building. “But over the years, their colors had faded and we thought their life had come to an end,” she says.
Eddie Israel, managing partner of the building’s ownership group, had noticed a display of Rodrigue’s work during a recent visit to New Orleans, and “Eddie thought they’d be a good fit here,” says Carson. The Dixon Gallery and Gardens had showcased his work in 2007, and several versions of the Blue Dog paintings are on display at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.
Rodrigue, who died in 2013, was a Louisiana artist who began his career painting landscapes of the Cajun region. When he decided to create a blue-hued portrait of his own mixed-breed dog, Tiffany, something struck a chord with viewers and buyers, and he eventually painted hundreds of versions of the Blue Dog, in different settings and situations. His work has been showcased in ads, posters, and museum exhibitions across the country.
“As far as I know, Eddie just chose the images he liked,” says Carson, though the shape of the frames on the building had to be taken into consideration. “I know there was one painting that featured blue suede shoes, which obviously had a connection with Elvis, and another that incorporated the Blues Brothers, but they just didn’t have the right shape. My personal favorite? The dog in front of the American flag; it’s just so patriotic.”
Israel worked with Dana Holland-Beickert, a Memphis art appraiser and curator of the George Rodrigue Foundation, to ensure the high quality of the images, especially the accuracy of the artist’s bright colors. Holland-Beickert also took pains to ensure that the eight paintings on display represent the chronological development of the Blue Dog image, starting from the eastern side of the building and moving around to the north. Balton Sign Company of Memphis installed the murals last week, which are printed on vinyl stretched over frames attached to the building walls.
“We’re really pleased with the results,” says Carson. “It really brings the whole neighborhood up, and it certainly makes our building stand out.”