Monday, July 8, 2013

Texas, ARTexas

A cow yearns for water, ribcage taut against its dusty, dry skin. It leans over the water trough only to discover nothing but dust as a vulture watches overhead, waiting for its prey to die. Thus Alexandre Hogue’s Drouth Stricken Area forces its audience to empathize with a desperate scene in Texas during the Great Depression. This piece, among many others, is featured at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth showcasing “Texas Regionalism.”

Regionalism is an American realist modern art movement that was prevalent during the 1930s, painting depictions of rural life and landscape scenery. In Texas, regionalist artists such as Alexandre Hogue, Thomas Bywaters, Coreen Mary Spellman, and Charles Bowling created pieces that reflected the once-broken soil and spirit of America’s heartland. These pieces allow us to take a glimpse at not only the popular neo-modern artistic style of the time, but also true-to-life depictions of what Texans suffered during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, the Amon Carter exhibit and Texas Regionalism gain national clout. Despite the prevalence and style of the regionalist movement, it never really turned into a single identifiable style. It is often viewed as a bridge between completely abstract art and academic realism, with a distinct American twist. Far away from the city, regionalist paintings center on American horizons and still-life moments in nature. Tom Freudenheim, former art-museum director and Smithsonian assistant secretary, hails Texas regionalists as distinct “transformative experiences” in the modernist canon. He sums up their efforts quite nicely for the Wall Street Journal:
It’s interesting to contemplate how so many of these regional artists were at once committed to their sense of place and their potential role in presenting, perhaps even glorifying, those locales, while also playing at the periphery of the modernist revolutions that had occurred elsewhere. 
Alexandre Hogue was born in 1898 in Memphis, Missouri but moved to Denton, Texas at an early age. After a year at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Hogue came back to Texas to work as an illustrator in 1921. As the Great Depression struck, Hogue decided to plant himself in Texas and paint what he saw. His most familiar series entitled Dust Bowl ensured his identity as a regionalist painter. More on Hogue’s life and works can be found in Susie Kalil’s Alexandre Hogue: An American Visionary. Kalil presents a diverse collection as well as a vision of Hogue’s life and triumphs in art. 

Jerry Bywaters’s career as a regionalist painter reached its prime in the 1930s and 40s, his art marked by a profound interaction between people and the land. His paintings span a wide variety of subjects, from his famous work Sharecropper depicting a poor Dust Bowl farmer to portraits of cowboys as seen in Cowboy Head. A great resource on Bywaters’ works is the collection Jerry Bywaters, Interpreter of the Southwest by Sam DeShong Ratcliffe. 

Bywaters, Hogue, and the rest of the Texas Regionalists helped to define a movement in art that shouldn’t be missed. Be sure to check out Kalil’s and Ratcliffe’s books from the Texas A&M University Press website and view the full Wall Street Journal article here.
-Taylor Phillips

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