America’s only “Psychorealist” painter, Alexander Hogue, will be the topic of a lecture presented by Martha McCarty Wells of Dallas, Texas on Saturday, April 1 in the Callaway Theatre of the South Arkansas Arts Center. A reception will be hosted at 6pm in the Merkle Gallery with the presentation beginning at 6:30pm. The lecture is based on the Dallas Museum of Art exhibit “Alexandre Hogue: The Erosion Series” and is made possible by a grant of the Madeline M. and Edward C. McCarty Fund of the Union County Community Foundation. The reception and lecture are free and open to the public.
An appreciation of nature and the concern for its preservation were constants that spanned the long career of Alexandre Hogue (1898-1994), from his earliest landscapes to his celebratory portrayals of the magnificent terrain of Big Bend in West Texas during the 1970s and 1980s; however, it is his “Erosion” series, from the 1930s and early 1940s, that produced his most renowned works, with their haunting images depicting the horrors of the Dust Bowl and the sinister rewards of man’s aggressive exploitation of nature’s finite resources.
Although Alexandre Hogue was born in Missouri, he spent much of his life in Texas and Oklahoma. Trained at the Minneapolis Art Institute, he also studied in New York City and in Taos, New Mexico. Hogue helped found the Dallas Artists League in 1932. Known as a “regionalist” painter, he was a core member of the Dallas Nine, a group of artists that gained national attention for their portrayal of the Texas landscape and people.
“I was raised on a ranch in the Dust Bowl and I was there when the dust storm hit….I saw lush grazing land turned into sand dunes. Thistles blew in and fences would be covered in just a few hours. Railroads had plows fighting it just like they fought snow….To me, as an artist, it was beautiful in a terrifying way. I painted it for that terrifying beauty,“ said Hogue.
Hogue witnessed the unfolding of the Dust Bowl near the ranch owned by his sister and brother-in-law outside of Dalhart, in the Texas Panhandle, where “the most luscious grasslands in the world” had been plowed under in the frenzy of wheat cultivation launched during World War I. Successive years of rampant wheat speculation and bad farming practices-the one-way plow and the lack of crop rotation-followed by drought (“drouth”) conditions, shattered the land’s ability to cope. The artist despised the “suitcase farmers” in particular, who came from out-of-town to plant and then returned only to harvest and pocket their speculative profits. When the wheat market crashed, they left millions of acres of precious topsoil exposed, to be swept up by winds into immense “black blizzards” that blotted out the sun and smothered the landscape in mountainous dunes of dust and dirt.
The Dust Bowl was, in Hogue’s estimation, a man-made disaster in which Mother Earth, and not mankind, was the ravaged victim. Consequently, the “Erosion” series was the artist’s accusation of a culture that had lived out of balance with the land and then abandoned it to utter desolation. Hogue chose to confront the disaster head-on and expose it through a series of works focused on the processes of soil erosion through the forces of wind and water, as aided and abetted by the deleterious actions of man.
Hogue exaggerated the actual condition of the land in this painting to gain the viewer’s attention and elicit emotion. He captures a prophetic scene of unusable farmland. The over-plowed fields have been sculpted into sand dunes by the dry, hot wind. The farmhouse and windmill seem to be sinking in a sea of sand. A patient vulture awaits the inevitable death of a cow longing for water. The only movement on this plain is the dust.
Alexandre Hogue’s deep concern for environmental issues was a catalyst for the creation of a body of works that spanned the entirety of his career. The land-management failures that spawned the devastation of the dust-bowl decade of the 1930s became the impetus for some of the artist’s most powerful imagery – the “Erosion” series. Works such as the Dallas Museum of Art’s own Drouth-Stricken Area served as an alarm to the public and an accusation and rebuke to powers that, through encouraging poor farming practices, had helped to produce the greatest agricultural disaster in American history.