Sunday, November 27, 2011

Edward Hopper House Art Center



Had a mini-revelation yesterday. On a totally intuitive level I now "get" Edward Hopper. It happened as I was looking out the bedroom window where Hopper slept for his first 18 years. Hopper fell in love with that view and never recovered. It really is that simple.

Yesterday with my family I went to the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, NY, the birthplace and boyhood home of Hopper. It's right on the Hudson River just north of New York City. Slated for demolition by the city fathers to make way for a parking lot, a more far sighted group of citizens fought to preserve the home as a historic site. They won and in 1971, five years after the death of Hopper, the home opened as a nonprofit art center. They place is drippingly historic, lovingly preserved, and worthy of a visit from anyone seeking a deeper grasp of Hopper's art. 

Recently Rachael Solomon, the Program Director at Hopper House, invited me to show a group of the paintings I've done during my residencies in the "other Hopper House", the studio Hopper lived in half of each year on Cape Cod from 1934 almost until he died in 196.7. They'll be on display in the Nyack Hopper House this Spring.

That's me above grinning ear-to-ear yesterday in Hopper's front yard. It's just a block from the Hudson River, that source for America's first indigenous painting movement, the Hudson River School that has been such a motor force in my own painting.

Below is the view looking out Hopper's front door to his porch where my wife Alice (left) chats with my daughter Louisa.





Turning around here's the view into the house from the front doorway with the main hallway opening up  to the left to the living rooms now used as the main exhibition galleries for the Art Center. At the far right is the railing for the stairway leading up to Hopper's bedroom.



Here's Hopper's stairway viewed from the second floor.



I met and had a great talk with Arthur Gunther, a photographer and long time Trustee of Hopper House who was so kind as to open up Hopper's bedroom for me to see. It's normally used as a workroom by the staff, but they hope to restore it and open the bedroom to the public in the future. Art told be they still have Hopper's bed. The door still has the original lock on it and Art needed to do some serious fiddling with it to get its worn parts to open for us.




Below is one of the three windows inside the bedroom.



And walking up to the window here's what Hopper saw daily as he grew up, the view looking due East to the banks of the Hudson River. 



That view really got me, especially the light dancing across scene. I too grew up in a house with a water view, in my case Lake Ontario just East of Rochester, NY. Living up to it's name as one of the Great Lakes, Ontario was vividly wide open and very wild much of the time. In contrast to Hopper's view of Nyack, a busy boat building town in his time, my view of the water was framed by steep hillsides, heavily covered with a mature beech tree forest. I think Hopper's life long attraction to sunlight shining on architecture and on water stems from just his experience of this view. That I looked daily instead at an all natural view of Lake Ontario is the biggest single reason I've focused my own painting on images of wilderness. 

Artists all have "first impressions" of the world- the images that imprint really deeply in their minds. These are something they fall in love with for the rest of their lives. Look out Hopper's upstairs bedroom window and you have literally a window into his soulful world. 

Here below is Alice and our niece Jenny (right) gazing out the bedroom's next window over to the right
yesterday.




One of the oils Hopper painted (years later) that immediately came to my mind as I looked out the his window was this stunning view of Gloucester Harbor (in MA). Like his boyhood view, it too makes us climb over a roof or two before we can see the water and the ships. That he could paint it so well testifies to how he could reach down into his memory and back in time to when the whole world looked fresh and amazing to his young child's eyes.





Here's another Hopper that looks like a scene he must have seen from the river's edge many times.








Early on Hopper did paintings of his home. Here's one the Whitney Museum has now painted right there in his bedroom in probably 1905 or '06. Note the doorway at the left.


























Here's the same spot yesterday afternoon.



I will be posting some more photos and comments on the Hopper House in a few days. In concluding right now one last thought struck me yesterday. Hopper's home was lovely but it wasn't extraordinary. Quite modest in scale and with a water view that was great but not more remarkable than what one can see in almost any town. It was Hopper's eye and fertile imagination that extracted from his early years the   thoughtful temperament he needed to produce those hundreds of paintings that are so widely loved today.

Any Hopper lover would have a ball coming to Nyack and visiting the terrific Hopper House Art Center. It's not fancy, just as Hopper wasn't, but it shares his straightforward poetry. Walking around the Nyack neighborhood you'll see building after building that will seem familiar to you from his paintings.

What Hopper is telling us is to open our eyes not to what is waiting for us in some exotic distant location but right now where we are. The magic is there, right in front of you concealed perhaps in what seems most  commonplace. With the right eye, the right point of view and the right light, Hopper shows us the exceptional hidden right in our own neighborhoods.




6 comments:

  1. Great post, Philip. And thanks for sharing your trip and photos of Hopper's environs. I suspect that many painters use the mundane as inspiration, but it isn't always evident from the results.

    Didn't Hopper always say that his work was simply 'about the light'?

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  2. Phil, What a fun journey with you..ah!!
    technology!! Thanks..another Hopper enthusiast.Rob Seyffert

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  3. Philip - awesome post! I love how you "got" Hopper on an intuitive level.

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  4. I always like your posts. This one is also wonderful.

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  5. I would love to see the paintings you have done inspired by Hopper's house on Cape Cod. I know you have shown a few in the past, but perhaps you could put together a grouping?

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  6. Leslie, I will probably post photos of them around the time the show at Hopper House Art Center opens in Nyack, NY this spring. It will be fun to see them all together.

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