Edward Hopper's Influence

Here's a photo of Edward Hopper's Truro, MA studio I took during my 13th residency there in September. We're looking south at the studio and the sun has just come up over the horizon. To our right, though it's hidden by the crest of the sand dune, is a wide open view of Cape Cod Bay. As you can see, Hopper had a completely unobstructed view of the light from dawn to dusk. That's fitting for an artist whose hallmark was painting clear, strong sunlight in most of his paintings. He did it very well, and much of that came from his long and hard (but also loving) observation of the Cape Cod light.

Hopper no doubt learned about seeing light from his teachers such as Robert Henri, a painter who clearly loved sharp direct lighting. You can see a heightened awareness of strong directional lighting in Hopper or in the work of his classmate and fellow Henri student, Rockwell Kent. My own sensitivity to light owes much to the study of Hopper's achievements.

Below is a photo of the interior of the painting room in the Hopper studio. On the floor at the lower left is the drawing I posted on the previous blog, Cape Charcoal #2 that I'd done the previous afternoon. In the background is Hopper's easel.

Below are two more of the new works I did during the just completed residency. Both are done with a combination of vine charcoal and pastel applied over a thin acrylic paint wash on BFK paper. For now they're simply titled Cape Charcoal #3 & #4, but as I work from them in my studio to make larger oil paintings, their titles will no doubt change. Both were done close to the Hopper studio on tributaries of the Pamet River. Hopper himself knew these waters well.

Years ago I was invited to stay in the Hopper studio because its owners started collecting my paintings. At that time my indebtedness to Hopper's example was clearly apparent, which is what attracted them to my work. Below is my oil Houses on the Hill from the 1980's and below that a Hopper watercolor of a Cape Cod house. The influence I had received from Hopper is right up on the front burner.

It's a tricky proposition working out one's relationship to the great artists of the past. To shun all influence would be crippling oneself. Yet there is something so persuasive about an artist like Hopper that one can be drawn into his vision almost too closely. Hopper himself complained that it took him years to outgrow what he saw as his over-reliance on Robert Henri's vision.

In my own case, I didn't worry too much about this, choosing instead to let things take their natural course. I figured eventually I would find my way to my own path as a painter, and I think I have. But had I not had the good sense to stand for a long time on Hopper's shoulders, I wouldn't have come nearly as far.

In coming weeks (months?) I'll be posting some of the oil paintings I'll be doing from these plein air drawings I've just completed. They'll no doubt look more colorful, but also less like Hopper's work than the house painting I posted above. There's a little more of a dream-like quality to my painting now. And I feel more free to take big liberties with what I actually observe out in the landscape. For me the really big lesson from Edward Hopper is to find your own voice as a painter.


  1. how amazing that you have the opportunity to paint in his studio, it must give you such a great understanding of what he was seeing and experiencing.

  2. Since your work online is undated, I'm not sure: At what point in your career did you "veer away" from the more direct Hopper influence toward the work you now create? Can you point to a "defining moment" when you created something you felt was unlike anything you had done before—AND you felt good about it, as if you had tapped into a Voice that needed to speak but had not as yet had the right words and/or language to express?

  3. David,

    There were a number of events that helped me develop over the years more than ONE moment. One was experimenting with using brighter reds in underpainting for forest interior scenes and finding I could keep lots of the red showing in the finished picture. Another was allowing myself to me influenced by my drawing class students at MICA. They were combining vine charcoal and soft pastel chalks in the same pieces- I liked the unexpected colors that resulted.

    I had been looking around for ways of working from direct observation (which is always a huge component of art making for me) while allowing myself greater latitude in color choices. And I was looking for ways to become more compositionally flexible. What really helped was starting to do oil paintings back in the studio from my charcoal drawings instead of from oil plein air studies. But it was a long process that put me in a place where this would work for me.

  4. Thank you, Philip, for your thoughtful and revelatory answer. It leaves me wondering: As you made art during this evolutionary period, were there moments when you felt as if you were expressing some of what you felt, but had a "feeling" that something unseen was missing—perhaps as if you were having a conversation, yet struggling to find the exact and perfect words to express what was needing to be said? Perhaps I'm projecting here...

  5. David, you describe it very well. I suppose that's always the case to some degree- I bet Rembrandt had an itching feeling that his best work was yet to come most of his life. We're supposed to be explorers I guess

  6. I like that. Explorers. In the best cases, we're on a mission of discovery of both the inner and outer realms. when successful, we're blessed with making a personal connection with others. That's a privilege!


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