Alexandre Hogue: The Erosion Series
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.
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.
To ensure the psychological impact of his images, Hogue employed a crisp super-realist style, which he termed “psychorealism.” His fine brushwork allows the subject to take precedence over painterly showmanship, while rendering the difficult subject matter with a beauty that makes the works all the more compelling. The artist wanted viewers to experience the heat, the despair, and the plight of those who had suffered directly. Hogue and his erosion paintings attracted national attention; on one hand, they were welcomed by conservationists, and, on the other, they were excoriated by those who saw them as a threat to the reputation and business interests of Texas. The Dallas Morning News in 1937 declared Hogue to be a “terrifying prophet . . . not unanimously honored in his own country.”
Sue Canterbury, Introductory Didactic to Alexandre Hogue: The Erosion Series, 2014.