Michael Rodio '12 | Mar. 15, 2013 | Daily Domer Editorial
Revere La Noue ’99 sat in Notre Dame Stadium, watching his undefeated Fighting Irish battle for yard after muddy yard against their heavyweight rival, the Stanford Cardinal.
There, listening to the the cheers of 80,000 fans, La Noue had an idea.
“I was thinking visually of what a season would look like, going to Oklahoma and playing the Sooners, and then ending with the Trojans,” says the professional artist and former Notre Dame varsity lacrosse player. “In my head I began to see all the different mascots. I realized mascots are a very cool portrait of American tradition. They're just so distinctly American. If Notre Dame won out, the portrait of the season's mascots would make a really cool visual.”
That night, with La Noue's vision taking form in his imagination, the Fighting Irish prevailed 20-13 in a gut-wrenching goal line stand for the ages. As Notre Dame’s journey continued, so did their wins. The Irish fought off Cougars and Panthers, Demon Deacons and Golden Eagles and Trojans. Their season was complete—except for one game in Miami.
Of course, everyone knows the story by now. January brought a winter of discontent for Irish fans, who saw their dream of a national title collapse on the turf in Miami. But for La Noue, that’s when his mission to commemorate an undefeated regular season began.
“I was thinking, ‘Wait a second—everything that happened from game 1 to game 12 was real,'” he says. “It happened. They won. Let’s not rob ourselves of the opportunity to appreciate it.”
So La Noue took his vision from the Stanford game, and he envisioned the historic season in the context of an odyssey: a journey not only of conquest across the globe, but also a journey in spirit, in rekindling a belief that Notre Dame just might win each game of a daunting schedule.
“Each stop along the way is this adventure—not just on the field, but all the cool things around it: the marching bands and mascots, the huge fan bases of Michigan or Oklahoma,” he says. “Each one of those games has its own very specific, idiosyncratic island, if you will. The stadiums are the islands where they stop along the way. That’s the odyssey. When you look at the season in the sum total, it’s a real accomplishment and a real journey.”
Rather than simply present the mascots in a simple graphic design, however, La Noue sought to capture the mascots in an organic, impressionistic style that has become his artistic hallmark. That’s where the challenge began.
“The painting looked really easy in my head,” he says. “And then when I tried to flesh it out on paper it took me almost four weeks.”
Each time he showed his work to a friend, they couldn’t quite see the mascots. The odyssey was just a jumble. So instead of trying to get the image right in one painting, La Noue painted 16. When he finally compiled everything—each mascot in order—he finally brought his vision to life.
The result is “2012, Odyssey of the Undefeated,” which La Noue is releasing on St. Patrick’s Day in a limited-edition run of 100 prints.
Like its Homeric namesake, La Noue’s painting creates a grand story out of battle scenes and distant travels. The 20”x16” print is a complex, striking portrait of a journey. He has even included lettering of each away locale, from Dublin to Los Angeles.
Some mascots are more subtle than others. Fans will quickly recognize the Wolverine and the Panther, rendered in bold contrast against a dusky background. Others are Da Vinci-like pencil sketches, like the Oklahoma Sooner Schooner or the Spartan. The Stanford Cardinal, represented by the base of the giant coast redwood tree “El Palo Alto,” is by far the most difficult to see. (The tree and its lowest branch are recognizable underneath the Brigham Young Cougar, to the right of the representative Purdue steam locomotive.)
There are similarities to his “Original Fighting Irish” series: the faceless fedora-clad toughs, representing millions of nameless Irish immigrants; the Gothic arches, familiar and yet ancient reminders of a shared spiritual heritage and fierce work ethic that made Notre Dame what it is today.
And like any journey, “2012, Odyssey of the Undefeated” is a portrait of identity. La Noue’s painting speaks not only to Notre Dame’s character, but also to the tradition and ritual of the college game.
“This painting is definitely unique,” he says. “This idea of putting mascots together in cohesive ways is probably the first and last time I’ll ever do that.”
That is, he says, unless Notre Dame goes undefeated again.