"Frank Reaugh: Landscapes of Texas and the American West"
The wide open spaces that define the Texas stereotype are explored in rich detail in this artist's work
Reviewed by Caitlin Greenwood, Fri., Sept. 11, 2015
The Texas stereotype is built on images of lonesome cowboys and vast, open space. For the Harry Ransom Center's "Frank Reaugh: Landscapes of Texas and the American West," the plains, mountains, and grasslands that served as the backdrop for the Southwest's history are explored in rich detail through the artist's life.
Reaugh (pronounced "Ray") embodies an era of Texas long gone – one that faded around the turn of the 20th century, taking with it the cattle drives, the stockyards, and the cowboys. Thus, it may be difficult for a contemporary audience to approach Reaugh's work without a sense of nostalgia. His soft pastel portraits speak to a time when our state still carried a reputation for fast-and-loose living. Reaugh first arrived in Texas in 1876, when he was 15 years old, and lived outside of Terrell, located in Kaufman County. He left to study art in St. Louis and Paris, but returned to Texas in 1890, settling in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas. And every year, Reaugh took his customized Model T Ford out to West Texas (and beyond) to sketch the region – trips that came to include his students in later years. Many of these student pieces are included in the exhibit, offering a nice glimpse into the artistic legacy Reaugh leaves us.
The Ransom Center's Reaugh collection is expansive. The more than 100 works in the exhibition allow audiences to track Reaugh's evolution as an artist and the changing topography of the American West. The center also showcases the tools Reaugh used to sketch en plein air, or in an outdoor setting, such as a folding lap easel and various carrying cases. The highlight of the exhibition is Reaugh's large-scale pastel series Twenty-Four Hours With the Herd. These seven pastel sketches capture the heyday of the West Texas cattle drive, in varying landscapes and times of day. The rambunctious cowhands and stubborn cattle weave across Texas, catching the light and taking in the surroundings. When Reaugh originally debuted the series, he produced poetry, music, and dramatic lighting to accompany the works. While devoid of that full multimedia experience here, the pastel sketches are still captivating.
"Frank Reaugh: Landscapes of Texas and the American West" spends comparatively little time discussing the artist's influence on present-day Texas, namely that his efforts helped pave the way for the Dallas Museum of Art and his students have gone on to achieve national notoriety. However, it's that quiet humility that perfectly encapsulates Reaugh – an artist absolutely taken with the perfect harmony between man and nature in the place he called home. Nothing more, nothing less.
"Frank Reaugh: Landscapes of Texas and the American West"Harry Ransom Center, 300 W. 21st
Through Nov. 29