Friday, August 21, 2009

Sleeping in Edward Hopper's Bed


Philip Koch, Edward Hopper's
Bedroom, pastel, 14 x 7"

Wanted to return to the times I've worked up in Edward Hopper's studio on Cape Cod. 

Hopper artwork is always talked of as an avatar of loneliness in contemporary society. If you read Gail Levin's biography of him, which is based in large part on his wife Jo's diary, you learn there is much evidence of his preference for his own company. The painter Robert Douglas Hunter recently told me an excruciating story of the time when he as a young art student was taken by a mutual friend to the Hopper studio to be introduced to the famous painter. According to Hunter, Hopper stayed seated during the introduction, remained absolutely speechless, and just glared at younger artist until he left. Low marks for social graces.

I have no reason to doubt the accounts that paint Hopper as a difficult personality. Yet he was multilayered. Despite his rough edges there also existed within him a warm and deeply generous man.  I can't see the lengthening shadows of a clear late afternoon without saying to myself "oh, that's Hopper light." When one inspects his paintings up close you discover all these tiny notes of color that escape notice in the reproductions in books. Though it's not how most would describe him, I think he's a master of color. Unlike the artists who leaned on the impressionist painting tradition, Hopper's color manages to work in concert with the solid, even heavy forms he inevitably used to populate his paintings. For Hopper there was no contradiction between dense solid forms and brilliant sunlight. He loved the dance they did together.

I'll be returning to work in the Hopper studio up on the Cape again next fall for my 13th stay there. 

Even the studio gives clues to the nature of this painter. Hopper designed it himself and and had it built at the height of the Great Depression, using money his wife had inherited. One of the first things you notice as you enter the studio is the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom are absolutely tiny. Given that Hopper was famously tall, he must have looked ridiculous in them. But then when you move on back and enter the painting room one is immediately struck by the enormous open space, the high ceilings,  and the fabulous clear light pouring in his ten foot tall north-facing studio window. The painting room occupies fully half the square feet of the building's footprint. With his design, Hopper was saying painting was going to be his first priority. And in the 30 years he lived and worked there he made good on his promise. 

Awkward in his social relations, he used painting as his way to interact with the rest of the world. Most people of course never met Hopper in person, yet millions who have loved his work know some of his most intimate sides very well. 

Thanks for the presents, Edward.




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