Fire on the Walls: The Work of Alexandre Hogue — Published in Humanities magazine, the publication for the NEH

[Originally published in an altered format in Humanities magazine]

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Fire on the Walls: The Work of Alexandre Hogue

That which is truly new sometimes comes in the guise of the usual. If one doubts this premise, all that’s needed is a look at Alexandre Hogue’s landscapes, on view through August 20 at the Grace Museum in Abilene with support of Humanities Texas. His works aren’t mere replicas of terrain. Rather, they reveal the mysterious delight that limns the interstices of hills, canyons, and rural structures. Like Emerson, whose first and primary church pew was Nature, Hogue didn’t seek to cut the transcendent from its literal “ground.”

Hogue is typically thought to be a “Dust Bowl painter” or part of a movement called “The Dallas Nine,” a loosely knit group of painters, printmakers, and sculptors active in the thirties and forties. Yet he ardently rejected both labels. He refused affiliations with any group and defiantly fought against nomenclature. While some historians continue to group him with artists with whom he felt no kinship, his biographers are beginning to demand that Hogue’s legacy be recognized in a more accurate light. He adamantly stated that he was not an artist of a particular region or era. In fact, he was furious when Life magazine referred to him in 1937 as a “painter of the Dust Bowl.” He took similar exception to comparisons with regionalist painters Grant Wood or Thomas Hart Benton as well as the frequently cited “Dallas Nine.”

Born near the close of the nineteenth century, Hogue enjoyed a long and prolific career that spanned seven decades. Astonishingly, Hogue was almost completely self-taught. He took a correspondence course in commercial design at age sixteen before graduating from high school in Dallas. He worked steadily from the 1920s until his death in 1994 and his body of work includes portraits, landscapes, and abstract pieces influenced by Persian calligraphy. But it is his landscapes that he is best known for, exploring areas such as Denton, Glen Rose, Big Bend, and of course, his native Dallas as well as places in and around Taos, New Mexico.

The Crucified Land, painted in 1939, depicts the red soil south of Denton and indicates Hogue’s early impulse toward conservationism. He painted scenes illustrating the ravages of the Dust Bowl but he also understood that water erosion posed an equally great threat. This work captures over-plowed furrows in fiery orange and vivid green. It’s moored by an image of a tilted scarecrow reminiscent of the Biblical Golgotha, the archetypal place of sacrifice and stony ground. A river bisects the terrain and it seems more arterial thread than plain water. Just as bodies are the keepers of blood and bone inexorably transmuted into abject magic when they’re loved, Hogue’s soil, sand, and dust become incandescent when refashioned in his landscapes. Moreover, when the ground was violated, he sought to vividly expose the violation with his brush in colors that seem to spark and flame. It’s a case of lovely arson—of fire on the walls.

“The poetics of Hogue’s art,” writes curator Susie Kalil, “lie in how he fully communicates his experience of place and how those places may resonate in our imaginations.” During a period spent in New Mexico, circa 1928, Hogue painted Procession of the Saint — Santo Domingo, which he had witnessed. It shows the enactment of a Catholic religious ritual that precedes a traditional corn dance for rain and fertility. Linear furrows in tribal robes are duplicated in the surrounding terrain and clouds. Action and place merge and a luminous canopy suspended above the Native participants becomes a temple of sorts, a locus for a fusion of the sacred and profane. However, a Roman Catholic priest, featured in the foreground, is oblivious to the event behind him. Hogue commented on the figure: “I put dark glasses on him to symbolize his blindness to the beauty… (of) what he should be witnessing.”

In Pecos Escarpment, Hogue melds landscape and sky with a man-made environment—oil wells, pumps, and storage containers. It was painted as a commission for a Fortune magazine article about Gulf Oil. In his typical style, he immersed himself in the subject, living in the environment, taking photographs and making sketches. “I wanted to make sure it was right all the way through,” said Hogue. In the foreground are three large tanks and behind them lies an escarpment with dwellings and rigs. He told the Dallas Morning News, “Oil here complements nature. . . . The shiny tanks, often repeating cylindrical formations in the limestone cliffs, reflect the light very subtly, and the whole effect is one of extraordinary beauty.” He gives us no mere topography and oil machinery. Kalil describes Hogue’s paintings from this time as “the record of the vibrancy, the dynamism—the American pulse—that beat throughout those decades in the Far West Texas plains.”

 

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Review: FT33 — Five-Star Dining in Dallas’ Decorative Center

[Originally published in Modern Dallas]

 

 

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It’s what happens when restaurateurs pay attention. To everything.

 

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FT33 is suitably located in Dallas’s trendy design district. And it certainly belongs there. Not only does it serve up stellar cuisine with a mind-boggling array of exotic ingredients, it also sets the stage for well-heeled diners who want to enjoy their foodie fix in elegantly appointed digs. If it were music, it would be akin to perfect pitch. To employ yet another metaphor, the entire operation is “curated.” In other words, everything — everything — has been impeccably chosen to invoke the proverbial “wow” factor. The personnel, the ingredients, the food — and its astonishingly flawless presentation — are all stellar. Add to that an OCD-ish attention to design detail, and you have perfection. Or:  put another way, you have landed in the white-hot center of Dallas’s premiere bauble of dining confection.

 Why the name, FT33? This epicenter of luxe dining was dubbed FT33 because “FT” is shorthand in restaurant lingo; it’s an acronym for “Fire Table,” a term used by waitstaff for announcing that it’s time to for a particular table to segue from one course to another. In other words, out with the salad and in with the entrée. The numeral applied after the “FT” prefix applies to the table number. In this case, FT33 means “time to move to the next course at table 33” — here, 33 refers to the table adjacent to the kitchen that offers a primo view of the deft culinary action undertaken by Matt McCallister and his team of professionals.

 In fact, the entire space is open and most seating allows for at least a partial view of the kitchen area. It’s a space that is obviously meant to showcase the place from whence things like “magic springs trout, local potatoes, charred rabe and pickled sweet pepper” emerge. The cuisine takes center stage and the kitchen is as perfectly presented as are the restaurant’s array of remarkably complex dishes. “Carrot panna cotta, mint pea cream and candied carrots” anyone? You get the idea….

 The restaurant’s design was a collaboration between architect Craig Beneke and design expert Hatsumi Kuzuu. Also, Iris McCalister, who is a joint owner, added some personal touches. The interior is decidedly spare; however, the space is made inviting by wooden panels, a dropped ceiling and a color scheme that features beiges, greens and greys. Uber-cool Edison bulbs were installed over tables and serve as an ideal lighting choice; they create both a warm glow and a vintage look. Plus, they pulsate with a frenetic, sculptural filament. They make for a perfect ambiance of soft, flattering lighting while simultaneously adding an edgy design motif.

 Upon entering the restaurant, diners immediately see, front and center, a rustic panel with a shelf supporting an anvil, a literal anvil once used for blacksmithing. It’s a found object that was converted to function perfectly well as an urn for a white orchid. Set against a backdrop of weathered wood, it’s a terrific choice for creating a mood reminiscent of nature and rusticity. In other words, the place is starkly innovative without becoming too sterile for imbibing cuisine from a menu that reads like a hybrid of food porn merged and the linguistic virtuosity of Vladimir Nabokov. Thus, FT33 is a feast for the palate — and for the eyes. After all, if you’re dining on “hamachi crudo, carrot miso, lime, spiced peanuts and serrano,” you don’t want to dive into it in digs that are anything less than sublime. Transcendent even. Well, no problem. FT33 has you covered. Actually, it has you surrounded. Tabletops are carefully designed dark brown surfaces that offer gleaming accents in contrast to comfortable wooden chairs crafted of chunky blonde wood.

 Even the restrooms are amazing. They feature work by graffiti artist, “Ozone” and make yet another statement that FT33 is trendy, cool and on point. In fact, this Dallas restaurant, marked by a stunning meteoric rise among those who know, is so carefully thought out that it creates a kind of a visual narrative. Even its location is a tad offbeat. The space is on HiLine Drive, midst spendy showrooms — and that’s, well, kind of perfect. The whole story makes for good theatre and an even better visual thrill. Even apart from the eye-popping cuisine, everything refers back to a luscious and delicate design portfolio of carefully chosen surfaces and upbeat fashionability,

If there’s one defining adjective for the ambiance of FT33, it’s “sleek.” The place displays a pared-down brand of perfection that could easily be found in the now super-cool meatpacking district in New York. Or even the bohemian Kreuzberg neighborhood in Berlin. Not to mention:  the openness of the space showcases “Chef Matt,” who was recently voted the Best New Chef in the Southwest by “Food and Wine” magazine. He stands poised, ready to leap into action in order to plate some of the more spectacular dishes you’ll find on this — or any other — continent. In fact, FT33 takes mise en place to another tier. The aforementioned chef places items destined for lucky diners in place with tweezers. (This will either impress the heck out of you or make you feel highly inadequate the next time you’re home and preparing a meal for guests.)

 This is no moveable feast. It’s stationary. And thank Yahweh. The place is so gorgeous you won’t want it to move one centimeter away from its chic and calibrated perfection. If you find this verbiage dangerously close to hyperbole, you’re right. But the place truly is superlative. Go ahead. Let yourself go. Literally. Check it out. You might want to make notes about how to “curate” your own life. After all, it pays off to pay attention — to everything.

 

Review: Fred Tomaselli at The Modern in Fort Worth

[Originally published in a different format in Visual Art Source, Los Angeles]

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Fred Tomaselli’s art is currently featured in the Focus exhibition at The Modern Museum in Fort Worth. Among many other venues, his work has been shown at the White Cube gallery in London and, for some, that will vet him as a viable force capable of holding court with the mightiest of contemporary artists. However, there’s a shortcut to seeing how he measures up. Simply check out his exhibition now on display at The Modern. It’s a smallish show; however, it is about as large in visual richness as one can find.

One work, “Flipper,” is a massive piece measuring 15 feet across that operates nicely as an abstract and colorful confection on a dark background. Tomaselli’s trademark composition of collaged elements is evident — the piece is composed of brightly colored layered loops that are coated in thick epoxy resin. His work traps lyrical and profane objects in equal measure. Thus, everything — including:  aspirin, magazine and field guide images, ecstasy tablets, marijuana leaves and, of course, paint — is enlisted to create a visual thrill.

“Flipper” is deemed by Tomaselli to be a hopeful nod to New Orleans in the aftermath of the Katrina disaster. Says he: “I wanted to… (celebrate) the rich musical heritage of New Orleans (and) you can read the small ovals arranged along the central horizontal line as the mouths of a gospel choir singing in the night….” It also feels, at least for this viewer, positively Vedic with serious cosmic implications. It looks like a Carl Sagan-style “test pattern” that is thoroughly sentient yet basking in an intellectual neatness. It’s dense; it’s honed; and it’s exuberantly ambitious in import.

Meanwhile, a host of works — dubbed “New York Times” — occupy a separate space in the show. They’re composed of scanned images of front-page NYT newspapers that were altered and subsequently printed on watercolor paper. They contort contexts and content; for instance, one work shows former presidential candidate Mitt Romney striding toward KKK clansmen. (An image of Rick Perry is also used to interesting effect.)  In fact, the entire exhibition offers a vector into the crazy mélange of our culture — sometimes morphing vacuous facets into images that are either explosive or rapturous. Thus, Tomaselli has delivered a fine show; one could even find it transformative.

— Recommended by Patricia Mora

Archived Review: Il Lee + The Thousand Faces of Vishnu at The Crow Collection of Asian Art

[Originally published in Visual Art Source and The Huffington Post]

This was published as a short “recommendation” of art worth viewing in Dallas at the time of publication.

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The juxtaposition of ballpoint-pen-on-paper drawings of Il Lee and an exhibit exploring “The Thousand Faces of Vishnu” is highly evocative of how art — and the universe — work. One is a form of religious wisdom that forces us to contemplate the manner in which the divine can never be contained. The other shows us the myriad ways in which a universal energy (qi) is captured and delivered to us again and then again in shifting panoramas. It, too, will resist solidity and will constantly spill into new shapes. Vishnu is ancient; Il Lee is contemporary. However, both shows remind us that ultimate wisdom — as well as art — are not only elegant; they continually morph for our delectation.

Archived Review: Ann Stautberg and Richard Serra at Barry Whistler

Originally published in The Dallas Morning News

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Barry Whistler Gallery has paired two very different artists to good effect. Ann Stautberg’s moonlit photographs ping nicely against the hard edges of Richard Serra’s etchings.

Her handling of chiaroscuro is intriguing because it intimates mystery and portent. Barely discernible trees and buildings are dreamily outlined by the moon or mysterious orbs — and if you’ve ever experienced the magic of car taillights on curved roads, this is an exhibition for you. Like the depicted telephone wires in her photographs — hand-painted with oils — distance is spanned. 9-23-11, PM makes you traverse space and do a bit of work to fill in gaps. You’re likely to find yourself wondering about destinations or narratives invoked by her images. In her capable hands, even asphalt is transfigured — no small feat.

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Meanwhile, Richard Serra has seven etchings on view that show us a different kind of (internal) landscape. They’re forceful and large — and decidedly unnerving since they’re a mashup of NASCAR tracks and Zen head-boilers. Path and Edges #13, created in 2007, has a decidedly Japanese ambience. The edges are mottled and vaguely leafy, but the interior arc invokes all the fragility of a steel-belted radial tire. It’s a collision of delicacy and a power play for your consciousness.

Serra’s etchings magically convey the same heft as his huge sculptures done in metal. They’re smudged and beautiful and moving, in that they create genuine velocity. However, unlike Stautberg’s art, Serra’s roars with musculature and feels like a series of strolls in a brightly lighted space — even if it’s the interior of your own noggin.