In Focus

Alexandre Hogue's Drouth Stricken Area

The Dallas Museum of Art's long history of supporting local artists is highlighted by this important work, Drouth Stricken Area, a Dallas Art Association purchase in 1945. Alexandre Hogue's Erosion Series, of which Drouth Stricken Area is a part, depicted the devastation of the Dust Bowl and became his most well-known group of works. The series was featured in Life magazine in 1937. The artist recalled an experience from his childhood in Denton, Texas: "I was raised on a ranch in the Dust Bowl and I was there when the dust storm hit...I saw lush grazing land turn into sand dunes. Thistles blew in and fences would be covered in just a few hours...To me, as an artist, it was beautiful in a terrifying way. I painted it for that terrifying beauty." [1] Using elements sim ilar to those favored by the surrealists, Hogue created what he termed a "superrealism," making the observer feel the despair of the Dust Bowl.

As part of the extended Dallas Nine circle, Hogue was a key player in the rising reputation of Dallas artists in the 1930s. Along with Jerry Bywaters (Dallas Museum of Fine Arts Director, 1943-1964), he became a principal spokesman for the group, helping form the Dallas Artists League in 1932 and playing a significant role in the Texas Centennial Exhibition at Fair Park in Dallas in 1936. Hogue and Bywaters were also both charter members of the Lone Star Printmakers in 1938, an organization formed to support local artists' growing interest in lithography.

Hogue held teaching positions at Texas State College for Women and Hockaday Junior College and would later head the art department of the University of Tulsa. Drouth Stricken Area was first exhibited at the Corcoran Biennial in Washington, D.C., in 1935, at the Texas Centennial Exhibition in 1936, and later at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1940 in Half a Century of American Art.

Hogue's Drouth Stricken Area depicts a scene of erosion and isolation created by the Dust Bowl. The Texas drouth and years of dust storms left deserted farmhouses surrounded and covered by layers of dust. In Hogue's scene, the abandoned farmhouse is engulfed by sand. As one looks into the distance, the accumulated dust covers everything to the horizon; the increasingly buried wooden posts on the right side of the scene highlight the devastation. The chimney, outhouse, and posts poke up at differing angles, conveying a disturbing instability.

The artist does not depict a specific site in this painting but rather a conglomeration of images from his memory:

"The windmill and drink tub are taken from life. I worked on that windmill. In fact, I was knocked off it by lightning. It was the windmill that was on my sister and brother-in-law's place-the Bishop ranch near Dalhart, Texas . The house was strictly my own. I just depicted it so it would be typical of the time.. .. The whole thing is just visually built." [2]

Rather than striving for a naturalistic scene, the artist was more concerned with experimenting with altering planes in an effort to convey an unsettled feeling, what the artist termed a "psychoreality." The drouth's universal destruction is also communicated by the presence of another farm in the distance suffering a similar fate.

The Works Progress Administration employed many artists during the Great Depression; however, as Hogue did not associate himself with this program, he was not hampered by government restrictions or agendas. Unlike most regionalist works, Hogue's depictions did not sympathize with the farmers but rather expressed his anger at man's destruction of the land. For decades farmers had mistreated the land through overcultivation, and the artist wished to convey a "scathing denunciation of man's persistent mistakes." [3]

The only living creatures in Drouth Stricken Area are an emaciated cow, desperate for water, and a vulture, eagerly awaiting the cow's inevitable death. One can discern from Hogue's sketches for the painting, also owned by the Dallas Museum of Art, that the artist felt it critical to include the starving cow and predatory bird as symbols of the vulnerability of nature in the face of man's destructive cultivation practices.The ominous shadow next to the buzzard in the preparatory drawing was slightly altered for the painting; initially a simple shadow of the tall dilapidated windmill, the silhouette resembles a flying bird in the final oil, a clear harbinger of death.

[1] Maridel Allinder , "A Portrait of the Artist," Tulsa Warld OK Magazine, November 26, 1978, 4.

[2] Quoted in Lea Rossen DeLong, Nature's Forms/Nature's Forces: The Art of Alexandre Hogue (Tulsa: Philbrook Art Center and University of Oklahoma Press, 1984), 104.

[3] Alexandre Hogue in "The U.S. Dust Bowl: Its Artist Is a Texan Portraying 'Man's Mistakes," Life, June 21, 1937 .

Excerpt from

Debra Gibney, “Alexander Hogue's Drouth Stricken Area,” in Dallas Museum of Art, 100 Years , ed. Dorothy M. Kosinski (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2003), Pamphlet number 8.