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LAGCOE poster: First the theme, then God's guiding hand

Aug 07, 2015

LAGCOE poster: First the theme, then God's guiding hand

It wasn't meant as a trick question.

I asked local artist Tony Bernard what went into the creation of his winning entry for the LAGCOE 2015 poster and his answer was direct and short.

"What went into it? I just painted it."

After 30 years as a professional artist, Bernard said, he reacts to art assignments rather than plans his work: "I just get the theme and do it. God gives me a vision and I do it."

His vision for the Louisiana Gulf Coast Oil Exposition poster included common elements of the industry: a Gulf of Mexico rig, a helicopter, pipe and some roughnecks.

"I wish I could be more creative and make up something to tell you," he said of his poster inspirations. But if he can't explain his work, he can certainly celebrate it.

Bernard was dubbed the "Louisiana festival poster King" in a 2012 Gambit blog posted by Wendy Rodrigue, whose husband, George, had some festival poster success of his own. Bernard said Wendy Rodrigue had aleady completed her article on Bernard, who has some 30 commissions for Louisiana festival posters in the past five years, when she turned to her husband for a suggested title for the piece. George, who had worked with and mentored Bernard for some two decades, supplied the rest.

It's a title Bernard relishes but, like Rodrigue before him, might give up. A self-educated artist, Bernard, a Lafayette High graduate, went professional for Lamar Outdoor Advertising in the early 1980s and went to work for Rodrigue about a decade later.

He said Rodrigue eventually left poster work and transitioned into other phases of art; Bernard stepped into the void that Rodrigue left behind and succeeded. He did five straight posters for the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, will do five for the Crowley Rice Festival and has done countless others around the state and elsewhere in the South.

Not bad for a guy whose start in art came because he liked to "doodle." He painted the Lamar billboards — 12-by-48-foot "canvasses" — before the days of big printers.

"When I met George it opened up to me the world of art. I traveled with him, did some painting, some portraits, and eventually did the official portrait of Bobby Jindal that hangs in the Governor's Mansion," Bernard said.

There have been other successes: the Louisiana Duck Stamp in 2007-08 and 2014-15; a poster for Festivals Acadien et Creoles, work for professional sports teams, the Southeastern Conference and the 2015 Washington, D.C., Mardi Gras poster.

When he wins a commission for a festival, he said, he generally hears from other festivals. Success breeds success.

"I'm pretty established as a poster artist, but I'm almost ready to give that up and end that phase. You've got to move on, keep growing. I don't want to do posters the rest of my life."

He was licensed to do sports art for seven years for LSU and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, which he pursued until last year, when his interests shifted.

Nowadays, Bernard said, he is leaning toward developing more of his King George pelican artwork, created about a year ago; his PopCajun soup cans; and his Cajun life work. King George, he said, is named for his famous mentor, and he calls it his own Blue Dog. He was inspired to name the pelican by an image of Rodrigue as king of the Washington, D.C., Mardi Gras.

"When I looked at that picture, the (character's) name popped into my mind," he said.

Bernard said he learned about the LAGCOE poster competition when someone emailed the details to him. He said he wants his posters to explain festivals and events, and what makes them unique. He said he got more excited about the LAGCOE poster as he neared completion, and told himself: "Someone is going to have to bring their 'A' game to beat this one."

No one else's 'A' game was good enough.

Ken Stickney | The Advertiser