This week, we return to the permanent collection, courtesy of art student Hillarey Dees. Hillarey wrote about artist Alexandre Hogue as part of her coursework in History of Twentieth-Century Art. In keeping with recent posts’ themes of community, Oklahoma art educators, and innovation, Hillarey’s essay speaks to the influence Hogue had on successive generations of students—including herself.
In 1946, art historian Martin Weisendanger referred to Alexandre Hogue as “the painter of American natural resources.” Hogue painted and made prints of landscapes of the American Midwest. His scenes were more than well-drawn depictions of the countryside, as they often included a human element. Hogue’s works present the interaction of the two subjects and the dynamic repercussions of that interaction.
Hogue used the technique of Dynamic Symmetry, which consists of a visual equation dividing the space with arithmetic and geometrical designs intersecting at points of interest. This results in a well-balanced, eye-pleasing composition. Hogue also taught this method to his students at the University of Tulsa, and it continues to be passed along to students throughout the Midwest. Even I have been influenced by this technique, having studied under one of Hogue’s former students.
Hogue is known for his lithographs, which, according to Weisendanger “entitle[d] him to a place among the nation’s foremost graphic artists.” In The Rattler, Hogue illustrates a rattlesnake slithering in the sandy soil, making its way around rocks and a pair of horseshoes. The use of Dynamic Symmetry is evident. The rattlesnake is a common icon in Hogue’s images of eroded landscapes. Weisendanger suggests its symbolism: “In terse, graphic language, the dry water tanks and dead windmills… give proof of the drought: the land has been given back to the rattlesnake and the prairie dog.” Wild creatures show the terrifying exquisiteness of their reclaiming of the land.
The graphic language of Hogue’s work shows the devastated landscapes that resulted from poor agricultural practices in the early twentieth century. Weisendanger insisted that Hogue’s work is proof that the fine arts were essential. At a time when the public was not ready to accept that they themselves were the cause of the Dust Bowl, Hogue openly criticized the farming community in his art. Hogue’s work was featured in publications such as LIFE magazine, successfully bringing mainstream attention to the problems of the agricultural practices in the Midwest. According to Weisendanger, Hogue’s works “speak louder than 500 humanistic novels and have been a major factor in the soil conservation movement.”
Weisendanger also raised the question of how Hogue would continue to change the world, saying, “it would be no small wonder if Hogue’s presence in Tulsa were the beginning of the first truly regional school, combining the inspiration from the best elements of frontier painting and the stately arts of the Aboriginal Americans.” Hogue’s position as Director of the Art Department at the University of Tulsa did have an influence on the art community and on the lives and careers of his students. Although Weisendanger’s conjectures have yet to be fully realized, it is undeniable that Hogue’s contributions both as artist and teacher produced a legacy which could provide the foundation for such an institution.
Work cited: Weisendanger, Martin. “Alexandre Hogue: Painter of the Southwest,” American Artist 10.6 (1946): 26-30.
Hillarey wrote her original version of this essay in Fall 2010. I have adapted her text for this blog post.