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Posted on Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 5:27 a.m.

U-M hospital exhibit showcasing modern Cubist works of Patrick Dengate

By John Carlos Cantu


"Abandoned Chevy Pickup" by Patrick Dengate

It’s one thing to pay attention to art history—but it's something else to truly take its lessons to heart. Patrick Dengate’s 29 paintings and prints in his “Contemporary Cubism” exhibit at the University of Michigan Health System are homage of the most sincere sort.

As Dengate—a Ferndale resident and freelance graphic designer who’s been an instructor at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills; Wayne State University; and Madonna University in Livonia—tells us in his artist’s statement, “For several years I worked in a realist style, but looking for new creative challenges in 2010, I began an exploration of less representational modes of visual expression.

“I call this work Cubist in that it’s composed of intersecting geometric shapes which describe planes and forms. These forms result in abstracted, yet recognizable compositions.

“Working this way has freed me from the constraints of accurate perspective and color. I instead use repetitive shapes and what one might call ‘migrating color’ to depict a landscape or collection of objects that tell a visual story.”

It’s a telling way to describe his aesthetic, because what Dengate does with this series of artworks isn’t so much an appropriation of Cubism as it is a personalized summary of it.

Cubism was an early-20th-century avant-garde art movement pioneered in Paris by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. As fellow artists studied these cutting-edge artworks, they were quickly joined by other European talents including Juan Gris, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Sonia Delaunay, Robert Delaunay, and Fernand Leger.

Other artists who found inspiration in Cubism were American Lyonel Feininger as well as other artists associated with Cubist offshoots like the Italian Futurism, Russian Constructivism, and other geometrically-oriented 20th-century expressions. Dengate more properly finds his inspiration from these artists.

What they (and Dengate) share with Picasso and Braque is a fascination with geometry’s chromatic possibilities. Cubist geometry is a remarkably plastic way of depicting in two dimensions what is seen in three.

Picasso and Braque’s initial forays were extraordinarily abstract. And it wasn’t long that other artists (notably the Puteaux Orphism group of Metzinger, Gleizes, and the Delaunays) sought to fuse Cubist art with vibrant color.

Dengate’s work is a blend of these arts. For his palette is not particularly flamboyant, but it is variegated, serving both landscape and architecture genres. His art is an idealized interpretation and summary of these artforms.

Superfluous elements have been removed in his compositions—including all secondary elements in the landscape paintings and virtually all particularized elements in the architecture studies—in favor of a precise geometric refraction.

Building Cubist element upon Cubist element, Dengate doesn’t waste a single line, curve, or pigment. And using sprays of lighter rectilinear cubes and rectangles to depict stray diagonals of light, he fleshes out striking tableaus whose colors create the impression of spatial depth.

For example, his surprisingly humorous oil on canvas “Abandoned Chevy Pickup” uses strategic circles in the heart of the composition to offset diagonal force lines in his depiction of a rusted motor vehicle. While “Church in Ruins,” on the other hand, finds him crafting crisscrossing rectangular and curvilinear grids to depict an architectural setting of cathedrals and aqueducts.


"Blue Canyons" by Patrick Dengate

But Dengate’s favored topic in this display is America’s Southwest, and this arid landscape is shown at its most dramatic in his “Blue Canyons” where stair-step geometry fuse landmasses to create an internal harmony whose linearity is richly supplemented by a relatively subdued palette.

Dividing his composition into irregular ascending thirds, Dengate creates overlapping patterns of brown and blue splaying diagonally up the canyon walls to create a sweeping horizon. The only variations he allows himself from this pattern are strategic patches of green that give hints of nestled vegetation.

Dengate is otherwise content to provide only the barest expressive articulation through his palette. It’s a tightly controlled, but also cleverly idealized gambit that allows the viewer’s eye to wander over the painting. His “Blue Canyons” suggests as much of this picturesque corner of America as we’ve ever seen.

“Patrick Dengate: Contemporary Cubism” will continue through Dec. 10 at the University of Michigan Health System Floor One Taubman North Lobby Gifts of Art Gallery, 1500 E. Medical Center Dr. Gallery hours are 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily. For information, call 734-936-ARTS.