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A Hopper Moment

In general it can be said that a nation's art is greatest
when it most reflects the character of its people.

-- Edward Hopper

Each summer I have the opportunity to spend a few weeks on the coast of Maine, eating, painting, eating, drinking, more painting. Maine is a very special place and anyone who spends time there has their distinct memories, mine, other then the lobster dinners and cold beer, is the light. I have never experienced this particular effect anywhere else.

Other Reviews:

Holland Cotter, Hopper’s America, in Shadow and Light (New York Times, May 4)

Ken Johnson, The outsider (Boston Globe, May 4)
The powerful rocky coast, ever-changing cloud formations, and a clean direct light that graphically delineates the land, sea and sky. It’s a painter’s paradise. Winslow Homer saw it and used it to great effect, John Marin was able to make brilliant straight ahead abstractions, and Edward Hopper basked in it. He gave it an emotional life. Marin used the light to make the land, sea, and sky into a cohesive burst of energy. Hopper’s light was a theatrical curtain, a transition from the natural world outside to an often complex inner life. This is often mentioned in context with his work: for me, most importantly, they're really good paintings.

On my trip to Maine this past summer, I missed a fabulous Hopper exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston: luckily good things come to those who drive a car full of vacationers with other ideas of a fun time because, from September 16 to January 21, the National Gallery of Art has the same fabulous exhibit, simply titled Edward Hopper. Getting this chance to see so many pieces in one exhibit made me a bit giddy. The first gallery has a selection of etchings. Few artists have the touch for this medium, but Hopper was a master, finding great pleasure carving and building deep lush blacks, as in Evening Wind, Eastside Interior, and a favorite of mine, Cat Boat. I have always wanted one because of this image.

The next gallery transitions to watercolors. I love his lines, crisp and clean without being overly fussy. Though working in a tempermental medium, Hopper fashions some fairly complex compositions like Cottages At North Truro and Mansard Roof.

One of the things I noticed about Hopper through this exhibit was his method of building up paint, using an almost bare canvas to make depth and lightness in the background of 11am and Gas Station, or as in Automat, a reflection in the plate glass window. In another favorite of mine, Chop Suey, he uses the technique to move us all over the canvas and then wraps the diners in a radiating glorious red. Another thing readily noticeable is his use of triangular shapes of color as form and light in all of his work, as in the verticals of red making their way across the canvas in Morning In A City. The reddish vertical line of brick walks your eye right out the window: it's much more potent seeing the actual painting. Matisse was an obvious influence on Hopper, and I was also struck by the effect Hopper in turn must have had on a painter like Richard Diebenkorn.

A jaw-dropping part of this exhibit is in a small case holding two of Hoppers sales ledgers, with sketches of paintings sold, who bought them, sale price, and his two-thirds take. Summer Time sold for $2,200, of which Hopper got an astounding $1,466. Gas Station sold for $1,800, and he got $1,200. I would like to see more pages. After their marrage his wife Jo added more details and comments about the collectors -- good stuff.

So many of Hopper's paintings have become icons of American art, such as The Nighthawks, New York Movie, and Office At Night. They have been endlessly reproduced or characterized. Thankfully with this show, Edward Hopper is as fresh and relevant as ever. He's truly American and truly a great artist, and this is one of those must-see exhibits.

The National Gallery has many events that coincide with the Hopper exhibit: an opera composed by Leon Major, inspired by five Hopper paintings (at the Clarice Smith Center, November 15 to 18); a childrens play, Who's in the Hopper; podcasts and more; and its very own exhibition gift shop -- ca-ching! This exhibit goes next to the Art Institute of Chicago. More images of Hopper's work, with more details and also from the press preview, can be seen at my Flickr site.

Edward Hopper is open at the National Gallery of Art through January 21, 2008.


Anonymous said...

Mr U. and I just saw this exhibit in DC. Follow the link to our Blog site and check out our critique of this great exhibit!

Unknown said...

do you still have a hi-res image of New York Movie?

Mark Barry said...

Jonathan, Not sure why it de-linked, go to my flickr site