Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Edward Hopper Studio (popular demand) & a serious thought


My intention to say something about painting was interrupted by a couple of requests to post even more of the photos I took up at Hopper's studio on Cape Cod last September. I was going to refuse, but one particularly desperate Hopper addict kidnapped my studio cat Fluffy and won't return him until I post some more photos. I surrender...

Above are the steps leading from Hopper's garage up the steep side of the dune to the studio. We are looking at the east side of the structure. These steps are new, Hopper's were much more modest. For the life of me I don't know how they got the furniture up there in Hopper's day.



And here above is the main entrance to the studio that leads into the kitchen. It's on the south side of the house, and the shingle covered walls surrounding the modest landing are a new addition- in Hopper's day there was just a simple staircase.

OK, maybe now I can sneak in what I'd meant to write about (actually it fits right in). We're looking at the place where Hopper painted a lot of his masterpieces. He did some very significant aesthetic "heavy lifting" in this studio. 

What is it that a painter is doing, anyway, when they pull off a significant painting?  Well I think Hopper was providing for a special need we humans have. We're hungry for a sense of meaning- we're not quite sure what that is, but we're still gripped with the need to feel it.

There are brief moments when the usual veil of confusion lifts and we suddenly grasp a connection between things that we'd thought unconnected. It's almost as if we overhear the whisper of a previously secret conversation that's been going on all along. Seizing that and giving it a form that can be shared with others has been the task of artists through the centuries. 

And Hopper did a lot of that right here. His Cape Cod studio proved to be an extraordinary place. Here he found the unique light and forms to be able to share some of his moments of special discovery with us. That so many different people respond so deeply to the work he did here means this modest little house is an "historic landmark" of our art history.



Above is the doorway leading out from the painting room to the west towards Cape Cod Bay, which lies far below the lofty height of the studio. This is the doorway that inspired Hopper's major oil Rooms by the Sea that's now in Yale's art museum. The love seat-type bench was Hopper's and the artist posed sitting on it outside in front of his studio's north window in the famous photo by Arnold Newman. It's reproduced in my previous blog post and you can see it there. (Some readers might remember that photo with this bench appearing on the cover of the New York Times Magazine some years back). At the right is one of the elaborate decorated chairs the Hopper's bought on one of their two trips to Mexico (if I have the story right).

Lastly here's the big painting room at dawn. Again we're looking west out towards Cape Cod Bay. The early morning sun shines into the studio  hits one of the drawings I was working on. When Hopper built the studio in 1934 Cape Cod was much more denuded of trees than now. But even today the studio stands exposed at the top of a sand dune with nothing to cast shadows over it. So literally the first and last rays of the sun are visible from the many-windowed studio. In my mind I think Hopper designed the place as an observatory where he could study the sunlight. And he proved a very good student indeed.



(I was just contacted by the cat's kidnappers and they say they're not satisfied and that I'll have to post still more photos before they'll agree to return Fluffy. My thought is Jeez guys, get a life, but I'd better put some more pictures up in a day or two or I may start running out of fresh cat fur in my studio).

7 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting more interior shots of Hopper's house. I discovered his house some 20 years ago. I have gone there in the off season and peeked in the windows and sat on the porch. I marveled how the setting must have been very different in Hopper's time.....no trophy houses, just this compact no-nonsense house facing the sea.

    Every summer I end up planning a picnic on Fisher beach (in front of the Hopper House) for the spectacular sunset. I sit there with friends and revel in the fact that I am looking out at the same play of light on the water that Hopper did......and I pay homage to him.

    Interesting aside, I have been reading the book "The Extrene of the Middle, writings by Jack Tworkov". Tworkov lived and worked in Provincetown a good portion of his life. He mentions in the book that he thought that Hopper was an overrated and that Edwin Dickinson was way inderrated. While I agree with his thoughts on Dickinson, I think that he was very wrong about Hopper.

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  2. Linda thanks. I'm happy to see Dickinson getting more attention the last few years. As for Hopper's reputation, I suspect Jack Tworkov was feeling some pangs of envy. Personally I think Hopper was a very great artist. That doesn't mean everything he painted achieved that level. Nor that there aren't many artists from his generation that did excellent work who are little known or still unknown. I'd be amazed if in another 20 years we haven't added a few new names to the list of admired artists from that generation.

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  3. Sorry for all the typos in the last post.....I guess I need to "preview" before posting (although that button does not seem to always work for me). Hopper is indeed a great artist and his work personally had/has a great affect on my life. I too think that there were many overlooked artists from his generation. I believe that anyone working in realism from the 30's to the 60's were overshadowed by the newness and vitality of abstact painting. I was fortunate to get a great deal of art books of 20th century american artists for Christmas. I got a book on Guy Pene de Bois (a good friend of Hopper's), 2 books on George Bellows, Marsden Hartley, a book on the Ashcan School and the very good book you suggested on Sparhawk Jones.Among others, I believe that some of the artists from the "ashcan" have yet to get the recognition that they deserve.

    As to Tworkov.....Provincetown can be very tough to crack as an artist. Hans Hoffman casts a huge shadow there (still). Hopper always remained an outsider. I think he preferred it that way. He really does stand alone.

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  4. Hi Phil, How does the light change over the course of a day for painting in Hopper's studio, with all the windows? How does that light affect your work? Is it different than your studio? Fascinating to see these pictures and get your insight. Thank you, Terry

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  5. Linda, you wrote "I believe that anyone working in realism from the 30's to the 60's were overshadowed by the newness and vitality of abstact painting." and I think that nails it.

    I had the good fortune to the the amazing "1934" exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in D.C. this last year. It showcased just a tip of the iceberg of the realist painting done in early 1930's in the US and collected by the WPA Art Program. Most were by painters I'd never heard of and I believe they were stronger by far than many of the paintings of the musch better known modernists. The show came with a well-illustrated catalogue that I highly recommend it.

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  6. Terry-

    Good question. In the Hopper studio on sunny afternoons the sunlight really comes blasting in. There's a couple passages in Gail Levin's exhaustive biography of Hopper where she quotes Hopper's wife Joe's diary on just that point. Hopper's practice was to shut curtains tightly over all the windows where the sun was shining in directly whenever it caused too much glare on the wet surface of his oil painting in progress.

    The room's six regular windows had curtains that could be completely closed off. The 10' tall north facing studio window had a curtain that could be closed off half way up,. The upper portion of it stayed open, but as it faced north, no direct sun entered from that direction. From it a wonderful unchanging indirect filtered down to illuminate his painting in progress.

    In my own studio I have some light from a sky light, but I also have a south-facing huge window that from late morning on let's in a blast of direct sun. It causes very severe glare problems on my paintings' surface so I close it off completely with venetian blinds. I hate to shut out the sun, but it's the only way to see exactly what's happening on the painting.

    One of the problems with working to get sensitive to light effects is that you become more susceptible to glare and eye fatigue. We have to "baby ourselves" and get the best lighting we can to work under. I use track lights I can adjust to shine here or there, and use them with a dimmer switch to raise and lower their intensity. It's really a great tool to have on one's side.

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  7. Hello,

    Thank you for showing the interior of the Hopper House. As a kid growing up in the 1980s, my family was fortunate enough to rent the home for about seven years during the summer. It is the most vivid memory of childhood for me, and the space transforms into a Hopper painting at night and in late afternoons. The views from the porch overlooking the bay, with the vast green thickets, and the blanket of ocean, then endless duvet of sky is really beyond words or thoughts. Feelings are most of what I am left with from my time at the house, which is also what Hopper's paintings leave me with, as well.

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