Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 1:40 AM
Edward Hopper at work
Hopper's highly original work gives us an uneasy view of modern life in America, stressing in particular the loneliness and isolation of man in the urban environment.
By temperament and by training, Hopper was a realist. Following in the aesthetic tradition developed by Manet, Degas and the Impressionists in the nineteenth century, he had no time for idealization, prettification or fantasy he had no time for beauty, in the conventional sense of that word. His aim was to recreate the experience of reality intensely perceived, showing us the kind of people, places and things that we might see every day, yet somehow imbuing them with that strange and elusive quality we usually, for want of a preciser term, call 'mood'.
At his best, Hopper was a painter of modernity he delighted in representing those things that make modern life modern, from petrol stations to cafeterias. His main province is the public place; private life is only glimpsed through window, in doorways, at a distance. He presents a detached view, as if observing modern man for the purposes of some behaviour study. His brushwork is slow, deliberate and dull, like the most deadpan of commentaries, and his colour can be almost cruelly harsh, seeming to condemn the garishness of modern taste.
Hopper disliked being pigeon-holed as a painter of 'the American scene' there seemed something patronizing about it. Yet the modern life he depicts is unmistakably and insistently modern life in the USA. Hopper's great strength was his eye for a good subject, and what better subject for a painter of modernity than a New World, the discordant grandeur of which had virtually never been exploited in art?
Though Hopper is best known as an oil painter, some of his most important early work was in watercolour and etching. He first won recognition as a painter with the daintily executed, sunlight-filled watercolours he made in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1923, and he continued to use the medium with a relaxed, lively touch throughout his life. The black-and-white technique of etching lent itself more readily than watercolour to representing the seamy side of the American scene, and Hopper's etchings of the early 1920s dwell upon landscapes cut across by railway tracks and life in cheap apartment blocks. It was here that we see his peculiar brand of realism beginning to emerge.
One of the leading ideas in Hopper's work is the inhumanity of the manmade. He can suggest the hugeness and bleakness of a big city by showing just a street corner or the view from a train window. Architectural forms take on a strange alien presence, mean, hard and repetitive in the city, aggressively ornate in the suburbs and small towns. Sometimes the environment is allowed to speak for itself, like a stage-set without actors. Elsewhere there are people, but they are somehow temporary; they seem not really to inhabit the place where they happen to be.
The principal legacy of Hopper's Paris days, when he saw and imitated the work of the Impressionists, was an abiding interest in the play of light and shade on objects, especially the effects of sunlight on buildings, inside and out. Hopper orchestrates light as ingeniously as any lighting manager in the theatre, and the shadows and areas of light take on as much of a life of their own as the figures and objects over which they play. Indeed, they perform the crucial function of enlivening and competing with those figures and objects.
The angles from which Hopper's subjects are viewed may look casually chosen, even accidental. He will sometimes crop a scene so that a figure is cut in half; sometimes show the main figure to one side as if by mistake, allowing most of the composition to be taken up with something ostensibly rather boring. But these are calculated and essential effects, often to emphasise a sense of alienation. Photographs might also play a part in the process, although the image is always quite transformed in the final painting.
Another of Hopper's recurrent themes is transience. His scenes of travel carry implications that transcend the modern-life context they stand in an age-old poetic tradition in which the journey is used to suggest man's journey through life. The roads and railways in Hopper's paintings, the travellers sitting on trains or waiting for who knows what in hotel rooms and lobbies, are images of human existence as a transient thing, images of mortality.
The people in his work often seem-to be in a world of their own, gazing dreamily into space or intently reading. Sometimes the parts of the setting around their heads or in front of their eyes will seem to contain their hovering thoughts, but there is rarely any sense of communication between them. Instead, they tend to be divided from one another by the furniture or the architecture into separate compartments of space. They are not brought together by any definite storyline either. Despite his training as an illustrator, Hopper deliberately avoids narrative content in his works. Something is going on but there is no way of telling what, and the situation is all the more fascinating for its ambiguity.
Hopper was above all a master of expressive space and, in a way, the spaces between the figures are more important than the figures themselves. The world he creates in his paintings seems to yawn with emptiness. Most obviously, he will use empty seats to suggest absence, imparting a lonely and isolated air to the people who are present. More subtly, his compositions are contrived to make us look for something that is not there, to give an uneasy feeling of watching and waiting for someone to arrive, or some event to occur. To increase our unease, he will slightly distort perspective, just enough for us to sense that something is wrong without being able to say exactly what it is. He was a realist, but with an angle, and his aims and methods were hardly as straightforward as that term might imply.
Writer – Marshall Cavendish