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Red Earth Canyon

by Alexandre Hogue

Egg tempera on cradled panel
Dimensions: 19 x 33
Purchased through a National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1973

Red Earth Canyon by Alexandre Hogue

The Artwork

This painting expresses the artist's interest in regional realism during the 1930s and his concern for conservation. In the middleground is the wind-eroded red canyon with stark telephone poles bare of wire. These poles direct the viewer's attention from the foreground to the background. In this painting the land is completely void of people. This helps convey the vastness of the damage done to the land by its inhabitants.

The Artist

A vital aspect of our cultural past, Alexandre Hogue created works focusing on place or region such as his contemporaries Georgia O’Keeffe and Charles Sheeler, who were also considered to be among the greatest twentieth century American visionaries.

Hogue was unique among American painters of the 1930s in his choice and treatment of subject matter. Unlike the American scene or Regionalist painters of this period, Hogue chose to depict a distressing rather than reassuring aspect of the Depression and Dust Bowl. Hogue’s allegiance was to the soil and land itself, which he had seen as a youth, which had once been luxuriant grassland.

Hogue’s attitudes and vision of the landscape were shaped by the calamities of nature and tumultuous social events that occurred in the Midwest during his youth. Born in Missouri in 1898, he never considered himself a Regionalist artist although he certainly shared Regionalism’s shunning of city life and rapidly developing technological advances. Hogue did not follow Regionalism's creation of reassuring images of the American heartland.

Hogue’s paintings of the Dust Bowl are perhaps the first conscious narrative and symbolic ecological statements in American art, and they are certainly the most emphatic, authentic and prophetic works of this century. Between 1933 and 1936, Hogue worked on a series of six paintings he called his “Erosion series,” examining variations on this theme.

Although not part of this series but certainly painted in a similar style and subject, Red Earth Canyon (1932) embodies Hogue’s style he described as “psychoreality,” a term he invented to distinguish his works from the European surrealists of the 1930s, in which he deliberately intensified the conditions in his paintings in order to generate empathy within his viewers for conditions in the Midwest.

A prolific writer, painter and lithographer, Hogue became one of the most important artists of “The Dallas Nine” group although he had little formal training. He studied at the College of Art and Design in Minneapolis in the evenings, while gaining experience at his first job at the Bureau of Engraving in Minneapolis. In 1921, he moved to New York where he supported himself as a commercial artist until 1925 when he returned to the Southwest, dividing his time between Texas and New Mexico.

His connection to Oklahoma came in 1945 when he became Chair of the art department at the University of Tulsa, and led the department until 1963. Although he retired as Chair in 1963, Hogue continued to teach at the university until 1968, retiring completely from the university to devote full time at last to his own work. He spent most of the time on his 240-acre farm north of Tulsa until his death in 1994.