Maynard Dixon was
greatly affected by the Depression. Moved by the poor working conditions he saw
at the Boulder Dam construction site, the maritime strike in San Francisco , and
the realist photography of his wife, Dorothea Lange, Dixon turned his attention
"from an exclusively Western point of view to a broader American outlook." As
Dixon said, "The depression woke me up to the fact that I had a part in all
this, as an artist" (Hagerty, 1998, p. 206).
1934, oil on canvas, 40x50 in.
During the thirties Dixon
produced his compelling "Forgotten Man" and "Strike" series, both of which
capture the hopelessness and insecurity of the Depression. By means of shadowed,
nondescript figures and titles such as Destination Nowhere, Dixon presents scenes
general enough that many can relate to them.
Size: 36 x 40 Collection of Brigham Young University.
Forgotten Man shows a lonely
transient sitting on the curb of a busy street in some unidentified city. The
pathos of the scene is enhanced by the painting's muted tones as well as its
cropped composition, which allows us to see only the legs and shoes of the
heedless passersby. Not only are the faces of the crowd unseen, but the visage
of the forgotten man is downcast and lost in shadow. The viewer is given a
front-row seat to the scene at hand, sharing a proximity to the figure without
Dixon's social realism paintings, such as
Forgotten Man, have been stylistically and thematically linked to the works of
American realist painter Edward Hopper (1882-1967). Although Forgotten Man does
share Hopper's use of strong value contrasts, the sculptural quality of his
figures, and his obsession with human isolation, Dixon's work never seems to
reach the eerie psychological depths of his well-known contemporary. The
flatness of the picture plane creates an almost poster-like quality that, along
with its heavy-handed message and proletariat sympathy, aligns the "Forgotten
Man" series stylistically more with Russian social realism of the 1920s. Dixon's
deep sense of humanity permeates his aesthetics. "Painting, as I see it, must be
human rather than arty," he said. "It is my testimony in regard to life…"
(Hagerty, p. 206).