The Art of Second Chances

Made a new version of Hopper Bedroom, Nyack (oil on panel, 13 x 8 5/8", 2012). Last week I had painted mostly on location in the Edward Hopper House Art Center this oil-

I was painting upstairs in Hopper's old bedroom and used as a prop the bentwood chair that had belonged to the Hopper family. Its marvelous over sized curved wooden arms had worked out well in the other painting I made last week (see previous blog post) but I didn't want to paint the same chair twice. I invented a more simple chair. But after consideration I came to feel it lacked the expressiveness necessary to commandingly hold the front of the stage. So I cast around for alternatives.

One of my favorite things to do in a painting is to work on an area that's right next to the part that's giving me trouble. I've found this to be helpful so often that it's just become part of my unconscious tool  bag. So I looked at the floor to the left of the chair to see if I couldn't imagine a different and better way to handle it.

Hopper was a great one for inventing his own sun light. Perhaps with that in mind I moved the sun (I'm an artist- I have the license) so it peeked directly in and splashed a highlight on the floor. It was my way of building a more inviting space for a new alternative furniture.

In my studio in Baltimore I have two rocking chairs. The more antique one seemed period appropriate to fit Hopper's bedroom and provided some more compelling geometry than my invented chair. So I inserted it into the painting's space as a alternative. 

Changes like this are the heart and soul of my painting process. Probably three quarters of my time is spent casting around for the right forms or the proper light to get across the painting's meaning. Never is  a painting able to borrow all its ideas from just a single source. There's inevitably going to be a few notes from the original tableaux that just get in the way of the overall composition's expressive direction. The artist's job is to discover alternative ways to tell the story better. 

One thing about oil painting that is an enormous aid to this trial and error filled method is that it dries slowly. What might have occurred to the painter only late in the game can be seamlessly woven in among the earlier strokes. When you're done it has to look like everything was there right from the start. Unlike real life, artists can reconsider and rework their arguments for as long as they need. Often I think one of the real meanings of painting is that it offers us a glimpse of what it would be like to always be given a second (or a third or a fourth) chance. 

Usually if you keep trying, you end up getting it right. 


  1. As an artist myself, I enjoy reading Philip Koch's sensitive writing about Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth, who along with Whistler and Rothko, are my favorite American painters.
    I don't live in the United States but have traveled and passed a short time there. But even with the little time spent in your beautiful country, especially in small-town America, I can relate to some of the poetical feel that Hopper and Wyeth had captured in their art, which is for me part of the attraction of their paintings.
    Browsing at the other day, as I do now and then, I find a good selection of Edward Hopper's work, ,in the big archive of Western Art, that customers can order online for canvas prints and even hand-painted, oil-painting reproductions can be made and sent to them.
    Hopper's surrealistic and depersonalized world is there again. Timeless, yes, as it is still there now in the roadside cafes and diners that I ate at all over America.


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