A Mystery About Edward Hopper.
Here's one of the works that will be in Edward Hopper House Art Center's upcoming exhibit Inside Edward Hopper's Studio: Works by Philip Koch. It's Easel and Open Door, Edward Hopper's Truro Studio, oil on panel, 7 1/2 x 10", 2012. It was begun several years ago up in Hopper's studio on Cape Cod and I made some important adjustments to it just in the last few days.
Below is myvine charcoal done standing in a slightly different spot in Hopper's painting room, Easel, Edward Hopper's Studio, 10 x 12 1/2" from 2002.
And below is a photo taken standing in almost the same spot just as the first rays of the day's sunlight pierced the studio. A few of my other drawings I was working on at the time leaning against some of the furniture.
And here's a photo I've shown before of his bedroom at left and the door leading out from Hopper's painting room to Cape Cod Bay.
One of the things I find so fascinating about Hopper was his failure to paint his immediate surroundings. His Truro studio is a case in point. It's a stunningly beautiful set of interior spaces, all designed by Hopper himself and all strikingly illuminated by the many windows he'd had put on the building. Except for his pivotal Rooms by the Sea oil, he did to my knowledge no other significant piece depicting his studio.
This was a place he lived for half of each year from 1934 until 1965, two years before his death. It was obviously a place he loved. Over the years he amassed dozens and dozens of masterful paintings of interior spaces, but he avoided painting direct depictions of his studio (the same is true for the other studio he maintained in New York City).
Many of his paintings are populated by figures going about their daily tasks. Personally I find more of the personality in these pictures comes from the architecture and the shadows. The humans seem to take their place as just part of the overall ensemble.
Hopper is often called a storyteller, and I think that's accurate. Looking at his work my feeling is he had to begin by telling himself a story. It seems he needed recall or imagine something at a distance. Details were stripped away mostly and the scene in his mind's eye became distilled down to some sort of essence. I think he made a conscious decision not to paint his studio and its furnishings. He was moving in the second half of his life to painting a realism of a world that existed "over there", maybe beyond the next hill. His world moved to a place entirely of his imagination
This wasn't always the case- early on in his painting career he worked a great deal from direct observation (some of his early views of Paris for example have a vibrant impressionist handling that's remarkable). And these were far from wasted years. He was gathering up the tools he would need for his mature work. Over time a more contemplative Hopper emerged, one less likely to paint while staring directly at his subject. He was happier remembering it, or imagining it. Sometimes those two things can be the same.
I know from doing my own paintings that there is a wonderful loosening of the reins when you work out of memory and imagination. It's funny but I'm realizing for the first time as I write this that I've been influenced by Hopper's example in this too. The first few decades I painted landscapes I always began by directly observing, like Hopper in his younger days. Then about 15 years ago I began to feel constrained by standing too close to my sources. I wanted my work to have the feeling of a well informed day dream rather than a faithful piece of reportage. Ironically my early work was consciously Hopper like (for example I couldn't pass a mansard roof without stopping to paint it). But I gradually moved on towards painting that is more my own personal territory. If anything it's harder to do than my earlier "Hopper-like" work. But that's OK. If you read Gail Levin's biography of Hopper you find many passages from his wife Jo's diary describing how hard Hopper found painting often was for him.
I'm in good company.
Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, NY will show an intimate collection of my paintings of the interior of Hopper's Cape Cod studio March 31- July1, 2012. There's an opening reception Saturday, March 31 from 5 -7 p.m. At 7:00 p.m. I'm presenting an illustrated slide talk Three Things You Didn't Know About Edward Hopper. Everyone is welcome.