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FEBRUARY 11

“He has been called a primitive, a regionalist, a surrealist, and a folk artist; more recently, he has been called a pop artist and an expressionist.” What catalog essayist Richard Steiner fails to acknowledge is that, given the proper context, any of these terms can be code for “hack.” Beginning his career inauspiciously as a commercial artist, George Rodrigue found himself, on the low end, crowded out by improving photographic technology and, on the high end, beaten to the pop punch by the usual crowd of New Yorkers. So the cowed painter retreated to his Louisiana roots and to the soft-minded identity politics that would allow him to recreate himself as George Rodrigue: A Cajun Artist. As with most vanity-style publications (I still can’t quite believe Penguin is pushing this thing), the monograph by that name goes a bit too far for its maker’s own good, establishing just how willing the artist was to try just about anything before finding a groove with lots of moody, Charles Burchfield-meets-Bob Ross pictures of gloomy oaks. But it was when Rodrigue’s dog, Tiffany (yes, I’m afraid so), kicked the bucket that his fortunes soared. Like a loyal, dead Lassie returning to Timmy from the celestial pound, Tiffany started appearing incongruously in Rodrigue’s paintings as “Blue Dog” (pictured, a rip-off of Ingres’ Madonna of the Insipid Pup). Become an admirer, and you join such notable art-lovers as Lee Atwater, George Bush, and PBS dysfunction-family fund-raiser John Bradshaw. Rodrigue signs at 7:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 3040 M St. NW. FREE. (202) 965-9880. (Glenn Dixon)