Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The painting that made it to NPR


It's rare that paintings get much attention on National Public Radio.

NPR had a great story on this Monday about one of my favorite Edward Hopper (American 1882 -1967) oils, Morning Sun, that's usually in the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio. Above is a drawing Hopper made of his wife Jo that served as the basis for the painting (reproduced below). Here's the story:


It's a funny story as NPR's reporter Susan Stamberg (who has a great voice by the way) relates that she traveled to the Museum expressly to see this particular Hopper only to find it had traveled to the current big Hopper retrospective in Madrid. The painting Morning Sun figures prominently in the exhibition and in a wonderful 16 minute video overview of the Madrid Hopper show. If I can be permitted a plug for my own Hopper-influenced paintings, the video includes a glimpse of my own work on exhibit in Hopper's boyhood home in Nyack, NY at about minute 3:40. It's beautifully photographed and while in Spanish it would be of interest anyone who loves Hopper. Here's the link:
  


Small world department: For some years I've served on the Art Advisory Board for the University of Maryland University College's Art Program.  (UMUC runs one of the best contemporary art exhibition programs in the state and is the only institution devoted to collecting Maryland artists. I'm a supporter and a big fan).The same day I heard the NPR Hopper story I went down to College Park, MD to attend an  Art Advisory Board meeting. My friend Brian Young, the Curator for the UMUC Art Program, and I talked about the Susan Stamberg story. Brian told me that he once served as a courier for Morning Sun when he worked at the Columbus Museum of Art and accompanied the oil painting when it traveled to New York to be in a museum exhibition in that city. Small world indeed!

Not that long ago drawings were made by artists to help them make their oil paintings- it is far easier to make necessary changes and adjustments to charcoal or graphite than to oil pigments, and drawing media are a whole lot cheaper too. Hopper, like so many artists who went before him, took full advantage of his drawing skills and often very carefully plotted his canvases first with drawings on paper. 

It's fascinating to compare the drawing study at the top with the final oil version just above. There are over 20 little written notations for color ideas where Hopper points to spots on the drawing with arrows.
And he changes the figure dramatically to a younger and thinner woman ( painting is always a romance after all). 

The painting focuses on the balance between the woman and the other big actor in the canvas, the powerfully stated panorama outside the window. It is a delicately balanced composition, and Hopper no doubt worked long and hard to set up the drama of the dialogue between figure and the window. They contrast against each other (rounded v.s. geometric, hard v.s. soft) but ultimately they keep each other very good company.   

Below is a drawing I did on location this April in Edward Hopper's bedroom (in the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, NY, the same room featured in the video I linked to above about the Madrid Hopper exhibition). The view is standing in the upstairs hallway looking into the famous old artist's bedroom.



And here's the oil version of the same scene I painted while in the Hopper House, Sun In An Empty Room, oil on panel, 12 x 9", 2012. I worked on the oil with my portable easel squeezed into the very narrow hallway. I used direct observation of the source, but also studied the vine charcoal drawing as I worked on the oil. Drawing can be a tool to simplify a complex source down to its essentials. In the drawing I had included the antique wooden high chair that had been Hopper's (imagine his folks strapping little Edward in to that chair and struggling to get one last spoonful of his breakfast porridge down his throat). As I worked up the painted version I decided to stress the glow of the light on the varnished old floorboards instead, so I mentally removed the furniture to give an unobstructed view.



Several other oils begun up in the Hopper House are still in progress in my studio. One I'm particularly excited about is based on this view of the same bedroom. I'd show it to you in its in-progress state, but I've learned the hard way not to show unfinished work. It's bad luck to do so ( my operating theory is that the art gods are watching and take such premature displays of unfinished artwork as an invitation to mess with the artist. They love to inspire us artists, but if they think you're getting ahead of yourself they love nothing better than to reach down and mess with you in your studio). I am currently working on the new oil and have done two different color ideas for it in two alternative pastel drawings. You'll have to stay tuned to see what comes next. I'll be showing some of them in my show in New York at George Billis Gallery (Dec. 11. 2012 - Jan.19, 2013).






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