Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Edward Hopper's Truro Studio Kitchen

This is a new oil painting I finished a couple of days ago. It's 16 x 12", oil on panel, and its title is the same as this blog post's.  It's based on a pastel I did that in turn is based on a vine charcoal drawing I did on location standing in Hopper's painting room and peering into his modest kitchen. The translation from charcoal to pastel I usually find fairly easy. Both of these media after all are powdery, atmospheric by nature, and always given to beautiful gradations that seem to draw themselves. The move from a pastel to working an image up in oil I always find far more tricky. 

Don't get me wrong, I love oil paint- it's like the most tasty cake icing imaginable- buttery, smudgy, and dense in a way dry media can never be. Really, it's yummy stuff. But it has a mind of its own. You don't so much paint with it as negotiate with it. Always it will do things it wants to do that weren't part of your original plan. You work your way around its stubbornness because you know its rewards are worth it. Oil paint has body and heft to it. Often times I suspect painters feel more like they're masons troweling cement. Oil paint can give an unmatched solidity to what you are saying as an artist. 

One of the big things in this painting is building a deep space by giving the foreground a distinctly blue-ish color sense. The far distance (out the window) is conceived of as a world of oranges. And the middle space, the interior of the kitchen itself, is a world that's chromatically in between- sometimes warmer, other times cooler, but mostly based on greys more than bright colors.

Following are some photos I've taken over the last few years of the Hopper studio's kitchen. They give you a strong clue that the actual colors one is likely to see in the place are more muted than what I've chosen. Ironically, I never use photography in my work. I find it makes me too conservative. To me it's a painters obligation to take an idea and go somewhere with it. As someone who's deeply married to landscape painting, I want to pull the viewer towards a palpable sensation of what's the unique mood of a particular space. Space, and the light and shadows that fill that space, are the real stars of any landscape painter's imagination. 

I get playful with color, exaggerating, diminishing, or substituting one hue for another. All this aims at heightening the viewers' experience of the particular space I've presenting. Space after all isn't really empty- it has to come with a distinct personality for the painting to have any lasting interest. Most of my color choices are partly intuitive. I start by letting myself sink into the space, trying to feel almost through my pores what it is that has attracted me to a particular place. If one is open to it, a place that speaks especially strongly to you always feels a little different than any other you've experienced. We don't have the words in English, or any other written language to describe the emotional tinges that come with the best spaces. That's really why we have painting. It's the language to describe what words alone cannot.

Here below I've stepped forward into the kitchen and am looking at the view immediately to the left of my painting above. This is the doorway Hopper used to enter his studio from his driveway. It's the view looking toward the southwest.
















Here's my wife Alice imbibing her morning coffee ( a quasi-religious ritual in our family). Notice she is pointing to her mug that is labeled "Truro." She's sitting at the tiny table where the 6'5"Hopper used to eat. In may ways he and his wife Jo lived extremely modestly when it came to furnishings and creature comforts. On the other hand, they did live 6 months a years high up on a sand dune with overpoweringly beautiful views of the rolling Cape Cod landscape and the shimmering waters of Cape Cod Bay. So don't feel too bad for them.




And here's a view of Alice sitting in the same chair seen from the small bedroom Hopper shared with Jo.







And here's the entrance to the kitchen seen from the outside. Looking due west that's Cape Cod Bay in the distance.




One of the delights of learning about Hopper is discovering his almost obsessive selectivity. He designed the studio he had built in S.Truro down to the last detail. Yet he never painted his studio, much as the place inspired him. He would paint houses like it, but alway because they had some special, almost magical relationship to the surrounding landscape. Here for example is his oil Ryder's House now in the Collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.



















The painting of the kitchen I began this post with will be exhibited March 31- May 13, 2012 at Hopper's birthplace and boyhood home in Nyack, NY, now the Edward Hopper House Art Center. I'll be showing more of my oils of the Truro studio interior that I've painted over the years. Saturday March 31, right after the 5-7 p.m. reception I'll be giving an artist's talk and slide presentation Three Things You Didn't Know About Edward Hopper. I'll show  more of my photos of Hopper's studio, and a look at some of his legendary Cape Cod imagery.


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