Doug Argue: energy beyond the surface. The unconventional questioning underlying Argue's poetics
Doug Argue (born January 21st 1962) is an American painter currently based in New York City. Argue’s first encounter with the fine arts dates back to his childhood. His father used to read excerpts to him from the Time-Life Library of art and show him pictures of works of art.
From 1980 to 1982, he attended art classes at Bemidji State University. After the death of his older brother, he transferred to the University of Minnesota, but due to financial problems, he instead chose to rent a studio where he started producing his works before leaving university in 1983.
Footfalls Echo on the Memory, Oil on Canvas, 2019, Courtesy of the artist
The Neighborhood, Oil on Linen, 2018, Courtesy by the artist
His early style shows deep reflection on several artistic movements of the 20th century. Highlighted by a fauvist palette, real life episodes exude emotions and feelings resonate with German Expressionistic tones, while the atmosphere overflows with oneiric elements leading to a surrealist imagery.
Another landmark in Argue’s career was his direct approach to such 16th century Italian masters as Tintoretto and Titian during two different trips to Venice. He admired Titian’s extraordinary command at creating light from within color itself. Tintoretto, especially his Crucifixion, impressed the artist with his intrinsic rhythm, and the feeling of getting in touch with a wider perception of things gave him a taste for large scale works.
Chicken Factory, Oil on Canvas, 1994, Weisman Art Museum, Courtesy of the artist
The experience of fatherhood also exerted a strong influence on Argue’s production. After the birth of his son, Mattison, in 1989, the artist started to analyze the world from a child’s perspective. Both the sense of responsibility towards a fragile creature and some autobiographical elements are rendered in his paintings where the father figure is hinted at in fragments such as legs or a hand. A sort of overwhelming presence speaks of a mixed feeling of fear - Argue’s father could be violent at times - and an awe of authority. Argue’s work started to be characterized by the use of parts to represent the idea of complexity.
Doug Argue signing his catalog: Doug Argue: Letters to the Future. Edited by Skira, photocredit by Micheal Mundy, 2020
It is probably according to this logic that chickens became Argue’s muses. Far from being idealized throughout the history of art, where they happened to be displayed in some baroque still lifes, chickens appear as a metaphor of contemporary alienation. The so-called “chicken factory,” an originally untitled picture represented a huge poultry plant where chickens inside hundreds of cages converge towards a unique vanishing point, questions the viewer about the hidden, ultimate meaning of things. Irony is not absent though, for one can easily see caged chickens as hollow symbols of fake, vanishing beauty being overexposed as a main value of a production “plant-like” society.
Burial, Oil on Canvas, 1993, Courtesy of the artist
Over the years, synecdoche has become a leitmotiv in Argue’s work. The analysis has progressively widened to exploring the underlying energy crossing time and how it flows. This process has taken two different, complementary directions. On the one hand, he revisited and decoded some past art masterpieces, icons of a particle of knowledge, from time to time. On the other hand, paintings have been peacefully flooded by texts extrapolated from classic, timeless literary works. But this is just the beginning of a series of infinite possibilities. Words lose their conventional status and turn into mere letters. Letters are the messengers conveying the essence of representation. In his life-long denial of spirituality, Magritte wondered and puzzled about the dichotomy between signified and signifier. Argue moves forward and embraces some sort of spiritual path along which he decomposes and reassembles the perception. This is a breakthrough that can change our point of view and help us to get a glimpse of the primordial source of everything we can know.
Genesis, Oil on Canvas, 2009, installation photo in the World Trade Center Courtesy of the artist