To say Hogue was concerned with the Dust Bowl would be like saying Einstein was pretty smart – a gross, gross understatement. The curators note that the Dust Bowl wasn’t just a natural disaster. It was exacerbated to terrible heights by practices that didn’t make much sense except for making a quick buck. Long-term benefits and treating the land well were very distant considerations. The scale of devastation was something else to behold. Floods of sand that overwhelmed rail lines and buildings; swirls of dirt that blotted out the sun.
Hogue created iconic images to make these points. In Grim Reaper, the lines in the wood echo the torn landscape and turbulent ash that is the sky. The haunted face blows away, and the import is all too clear. We are the Grim Reaper unto nature and ourselves. Written into our very actions are the results.
Sometimes there’s a bit more subtlety on the artist’s part. Red Earth Canyon takes a bit of time to absorb, but one can’t help but eventually be disgusted by it. The colors make the landscape look fleshy and diseased. The human construction resembles a pox, a thoroughly unnatural condition.
Hogue overwhelms with lines. There are always repeating patterns of them, and it isn’t just a stylistic feature of the works in “The Erosion Series.” Rather, the immensity, scope, and awfulness of the disaster conveys itself to us in patterns. If we face a grave danger, we may see some kind of dark beauty, a semblance of order. There’s a reason why we can be deer in headlights, as we fixate on something.
Another thought I had about Alexandre Hogue while at the exhibit was the following. Ad after ad on television has candidate X proclaiming how much he fought Obama, followed by candidate Y saying how candidate X can’t be trusted since Y fought Obama more. There are Texas liberals, real ones, from generations ago. And if Hogue is any indication, they can be very thoughtful and talented. This state has some aspect of “blue” in it that’s of tougher stock than the cheap and thoughtless “red” I see at times nowadays.