Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Truro Hopper Medley

Many people have contacted me to say they've enjoyed seeing the photos my wife and I took in this fall when we were staying up in Hopper's S. Truro, MA studio. And asked that they keep coming. Here goes...

Above is the Hopper studio (at left) seen from about 3/4 of the way down the path that leads from the studio to the beach where Hopper used to like to swim (often alone, to the chagrin of his wife Jo). The large house to the right lies just to the south of the studio. It was built in the decades after the Hoppers died. I invite viewers to imagine how these hills looked in Hopper's time, when his was the only building on this long stretch of high dunes. 

For fun and to give some context to these photos of the studio I'm putting in a couple of  Cape Cod theme Hopper paintings. One that I've always loved even though its mood seems a little unsettling is Hopper's Cape Cod Evening. The dog is placed right up front as the most important "actor." The dog's ears are cocked forward as if it hears something scurrying in the forest that the two humans haven't sensed yet. Perhaps the man leaning forward and gesturing to the dog is hoping to learn how to see and hear the sounds of nature as well as the dog can. Animals after all live closer to nature than we humans and to me this painting hints at that. 

Here's me standing in a brisk late afternoon wind down on Hopper's beach with his studio over my shoulder. There are a whole series of grass covered dunes that lie down near the water. To reach the studio, one climbs over those, descends into a protected little hollow, and then ascends up a long and very steep path up the side of the much higher dunes in the distance. It's hard to convey in a photo how high up over the water the studio is.

Inside the studio's painting room. The sunlight shines into the bedroom from the unseen door to the kitchen. The door Hopper used to reach the beach is open at the right. The is the view that inspired Hopper's wonderful oil Rooms by the Sea, now in Yale's collection.

Hopper's famous oil of Corn Hill,  a spot located just north of Hopper's studio along Cape Cod Bay. It is so named because the Mayflower Pilgrims landed here before reaching Plymouth Rock looking for food. They discovered a cache of corn the Native Americans had stored in the hillside for the next season and took it for themselves, ascribing their good fortune to "divine providence." That's putting quite a good spin on it. Great painting though. Look at the wonderful contrasting patterns of sand, grasses, and darker plants on the hillside played off against the regularity of the box-like rows of houses. That's just the sort of contrast that used to ignite Hopper's imagination.

I don't know if Corn Hill was painted in the painting room at left in the photo below, as it may well have been, or back in Hopper's New York studio. But I like to imagine the oil being painted here. The door at the right is the studio's bathroom. Notice the steamed up vanity mirror after my wife Alice's morning shower.

A watercolor of a house that still stands on the south bank of the Pamet River where it empties into Cape Cod Bay. This is just north of the Hopper studio. Since the watercolor was painted the house has become largely obscured by a grove of trees that have grown up around it. In Hopper's day Truro was a much more open space. In the late 19th century Cape Cod had become almost completely deforested by the inhabitants' hunger for firewood and lumber, giving the place an almost desert like appearance. That's largely gone now, except for the remarkable visual record left to us by Hopper's Truro paintings.

Here's Hopper's bedroom viewed from the kitchen. The left window faces due south. The right window west, opening onto Cape Cod Bay.

 Here I am wedged tightly in between the two beds seen above, working on a vine charcoal drawing.

Here's the vine charcoal I was working on, Hopper's Bedroom, Truro II, 9 x 12", 2012.

P.S. A few of my collectors very sweetly contacted me to ask how my studio in Baltimore survived Hurricane Sandy. We had spent much of Sunday preparing, getting everything stored safely up in my painting racks well off the floor. (Especially the new work I have ready for George Billis Gallery in New York's show of my paintings set to open Dec. 11). Am happy to report we were able to control what water did come in and we suffered no damage!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Is Edward Hopper Turing Over in His Grave?

Yes probably.

I suspect he might prefer his notorious desire to be left alone be extended posthumously to his studio.

A number of people who had direct encounters with Hopper later in his life have told me he could be remote or even rude. Well, that at least makes him more real. Often he could paint like an angel. What he lacked in charm with strangers he made up for with the amazing generosity of his eye.

So many people who love Hopper have thanked me for sharing the photos my wife Alice and I took during our last residency in the famous painter's S. Truro, MA studio in late September and early October. I feel I'm performing something of a public service. To get me to stop they'll have to send the art police.

Here I am above sitting in the bedroom in Hopper's studio. The two windows behind me overlook Cape Cod Bay. The bench I'm using is the same one pictured in Arnold Newman's famous 1960 portrait of Hopper sitting outdoors on the north side of his studio.

Here's an new painting I did on my French easel squeezed into the small bedroom, Hopper's Bedroom and Bench I, oil on panel, 9 x 12", 2012.

The ceramic horse placed on Hopper's bureau was purchased I believe by the Hopper's on one of their trips to Mexico.

My working method for painting often includes doing a vine charcoal drawing of the subject first as I have done here. The charcoal is 9 x 12" like the oil.

The Cape in Fall can be chilly so we often found ourselves hanging out in the kitchen on sunny mornings. That's the small round table Hopper and Jo used to eat at in the foreground. The door at the left is the one they would use most often to come and go from the studio- it leads to the stairs down to the driveway. One the right is the kitchen sink with a view out to Cape Cod Bay.

Here's what Hopper (or more likely Jo) would see when washing dishes. Not a bad spot for kitchen chores. In this photo you can glimpse the Bay off to the right. 

This is the deck that was added to the west side of the studio by the present owners in 1983 (they built it themselves and it is really sturdy, which I find impressive). Hopper had to make do with putting his Adirondack chairs in the sand. You can see the shadow of the studio on the sand along the shore. This is the early morning sun light.

Hopper had one heck of a good eye for real estate. Here's a view of his studio taken from about 1/3 of the way along the winding path that leads down to his beach. The grasses and ground cover have to struggle to survive the often very windy conditions and sandy soil. The vegetation make patterns over the dunes that are very beautiful.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hopper Studio Fall '12 Part 3

Here are some of the new photos of the S. Truro, MA Hopper studio that have been posted to the special Hopper Studio Photos page of my website. The page will be getting additions regularly over the next period as we have a lot of great new photos to download. I believe it is the largest group of original photos of the Hopper studio to be found anywhere and can serve as a resource for Hopper scholars and Hopper lovers.

Above is a view through the open kitchen door- this is the entryway the Hoppers used to get to their car and the outside world. This is the southeast corner of the studio, with the far window opening onto their small bedroom. Usually there is  quite a breeze blowing in off Cape Cod Bay as the studio is at the crest of a steep hill. The present owner of the studio had a partly sheltered set of steps with waist high walls added a few years ago as a buffer against the elements.

This is standing in the painting room looking due south, toward the fireplace. At left behind the bookcase are some extremely steep stairs leading to the basement, and in the distance the kitchen we saw in the above photo. The bookcase and the upper level was modernized after Hopper was gone. In his day it was pretty unfinished and used more for just storage. When we first went there in 1983 we found up in the attic two dusty sets of wooden stretcher bars where Hopper had stretched watercolor paper tight over them. They seemed to be waiting patiently for Hopper to pick them up and start new paintings. I was very moved to discover them there.

This is the east wall of the studio catching the first rays of sun. There is an old outdoor shower partly hidden in the shadows. I'm not sure if it was there in Hopper's time or if it came later. The shadow from the bushes is new, as in Hopper's day they had yet to re-grow to any height ( the 19th century's hunger for fuel and lumber pretty much denuded the Cape, and even in the 1930's when the studio was built the hillsides were mostly just sands and grasses). Now the short sea-challenged trees are making a comeback.

This is the view from about 3/4 of the way down the winding path Hopper would take to get from his studio to the shore on Cape Cod Bay. It's looking to the southwest. The wind is usually whipping through the low plants and grasses on the dunes creating this moving or undulating effect. It's often extremely stirring.

This is the studio viewed from the south from the neighbor's driveway.

Here is one of my vine charcoal drawings I did with my French easel set up in Hopper's bedroom. It is Hopper's Truro Bedroom III, 7 x 14", 2012.  The left window looks out onto the water of Cape Cod Bay, the first door is to one of the two small closets in the bedroom, and the large doorway opens out to Hopper's painting room.

On a totally different note, the Delaware Art Museum just opening their Centennial Juried Exhibition Friday evening. I had one of the pieces selected display, The Song of all Days, oil on panel, 36 x 72".
Had a chance to chat with the juror for the exhibit, John Ravenal, the contemporary curator at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond. Turns out his mother was a painter, which I'm a sure was a real spur to get him thinking about the art world early on.

There is some man standing in front of my painting in the exhibit wearing a tag with my name on it.  He looks friendly enough.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Discovery About The Cleveland Museum of Art's Edward Hopper


In this oil Hopper painted the very spot where he would build his famous studio on Cape Cod. It's a sort of painted love letter to where he and his wife Jo would spend half of each year for the last three decades of their lives. 

The painting is  Hills, South Truro from 1930 that's in the Collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art (the first art museum with a truly world class collection that I visited regularly once I'd discovered it as a budding art major at Oberlin College back in the late '60's). 

Earlier this month when I was sitting in Edward Hopper's studio on Cape Cod I took a break from the paintings I was doing and absentmindedly began flipping through a book of plates of Hopper's work. As Hills, South Truro came into view it hit me that I was literally sitting right in the middle that painting. I've always thought it one of Hopper's masterpieces, and the one that comes closest to capturing the slightly other-worldly look and feel of Cape Cod back when Hopper first moved there. 

Hopper's view is looking due west out at Cape Cod Bay from a vantage point several hundred yards inland. The quirky and distinctive silhouettes of the tallest dunes clearly had captured his artist's imagination. Against the unexpected bends in the contours of the dunes, he contrasted the ever so straight tracks of the rail line leading out to nearby Provincetown. The bed that once held the railroad tracks is still visible today as one drives up the approach road to Hopper's property, so one can locate Hopper's vantage point pretty closely. 

What tipped me off was the pyramid-shaped dune that is the 2nd from the left form on the horizon. It was known as a local landmark and called affectionately "the Camel's Hump." The present owners of the Hopper studio had told me the story. Some years back an over eager would be builder on his own had taken the Camel's Hump out with a bulldozer without getting building permits from the town of Truro. 

A neighbor called to complain and the town authorities halted any further construction. One can hike up to the spot today and see all that's left- the huge gouge taken out of the hillside where the builder had planned to raise his new structure. 

Below is a painting Hopper did titled The Camel's Hump in 1931 (now in the Collection of the Munson- Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, NY). It was painted from what would be the shadowed farthest valley at the right side of Hills, South Truro looking back toward the left side of that painting. In Camel's Hump, what is now Hopper's driveway is the cooler colored strip of sand that runs from the left to the right side of painting about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the canvas. 

Compare the patterns of dark foliage and light sand on the uniquely shaped hill  on both paintings and you can see it's the same spot. I have drawn (OK, rather crudely I admit) an arrow to the spot in his original painting where his studio now stands.

The view Hopper painted is now obscured by the trees that have gradually filled back in from the near total deforestation of Cape Cod by the late 19th century's hunger for firewood and lumber. But below is an oil I did back in 1983 on my first residency in the Hopper studio. I was standing closer to his studio than the vantage point he had chosen for his painting. In '83 the trees were much more present than in Hopper's 1930 view, but now they totally block one's vision.

Here's a photo taken two weeks ago standing at the top of Hopper's driveway looking toward the studio (that's his garage just below it). Note the similarity of the upward slope at the far left of the photo, my '83 oil, and in Hopper's '30 oil. 

The art historian Gail Levin in her Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography writes about when Hopper painted in Truro in 1930-

Hopper's oils that summer began with Hills, South Truro which he told Guy du Bois was "done almost entirely on the spot" when "mosquitoes were terrible."

Levin describes the painting and mentions Hopper's practice in those years of working outdoors on oils over repeated sessions at the same time of day to keep the light effect more constant-

On July 14 Jo described Hills, South Truro in progress as "a canvas he's grouching over- rather a beauty- hills and hills on over to the sea that he's working on from 6 - 8 P.M."

I find that reference to Hopper painting Hills, South Truro mostly from direct observation fascinating. He made one big change, swinging the sun over to shine on the north side of the roof of the foreground house instead of letting it illuminate the other side. He lied a bit.Why did he do this? 

Hopper wanted to make a painting that pulled together the so often dis-united elements of the landscape he actually saw. You could say he wanted to paint in a way that expressed the emotional wholeness and inner excitement this scene evoked for him. He knew that one of the challenges for this painting was going to be to make the human-made architecture connect with the nature-made hills by the sea. Probably he first tried painting the diagonals of the roof with the left side emphasized by highlights and found it just didn't feel right. So he adroitly moves the sun to highlight instead the right side roof whose diagonals more closely mimic the most prominent diagonal on the far Camel's Hump.

I've written in other blog posts about another famous Hopper oil from Truro, Rooms by the Sea, where he moves the sun to shine in a way it never does to make a more expressive painting. Radical changes like this are one of the things so endearing to me about Hopper. He paints with such authority because he's got a firm grasp of the mood and expressive tenor he's after. 

Degas was famous for claiming an artist needed the cunning of a criminal to paint a good painting. Well, Hopper had it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hopper Studio 2012 Residency Part 2

Many people find the paintings of Edward Hopper hauntingly attractive. Naturally there's enormous curiosity about Edward Hopper and where he worked. Here are some photos my wife and I took while up at the South Truro studio last week.  Hopper designed the place himself and had it built in 1934 (using fund his wife Jo inherited). 

I'll be showing more of these new photos over the next few blog posts.

Above is the studio last week first thing in the morning with the just-risen sun blasting on its east wall. This is the north end of the studio with its signature 10' tall north window. The painting room of the studio is big and fills the entire north half of the building. On the exterior wall that's in the sunlight, the two smaller windows on the right open onto the painting room.

Here's the inside of the painting room again showing the first rays of sun hitting the far wall. That's Cape Cod Bay in the distance. The dutch door at the left was the inspiration for Hopper's pivotal oil Rooms by the Sea now in Yale's art museum. At the far left is the doorway to the studio's small bedroom.

Above is a 7 x 14" vine charcoal drawing I did of that corner of the painting room once both of the doors swung open.

While the ceilings in the rest of the studio are surprisingly low given Hopper's six and a half foot stature, the ceiling in the painting room soars overhead. It makes for a genuinely inspirational space.  

This is swinging the camera over to the right from the last photo's view to now look due west.

Here is Hopper's easel caught in the early sunlight with the big north window opening up a view looking northwest. Hopper's easel itself was good and solid but nothing fancy- the same model is available from any major art supply store. Obviously the magic was in what Hopper brought to the easel. On the horizon at the right is the tiny thin strip of land that is Provincetown.

Below the photo shows Hopper's studio easel at the right and my own portable French easel at the left. I drew the vine charcoal I showed in an above photo standing at the left easel. 

Shortly I'll be posting a larger collection of new photos we took up in the Hopper studio on my website
on their own "Hopper Studio Photos" page. The number of photos will gradually grow over the next few weeks.

In Other News: 

The Delaware Art Museum's Centennial Juried Exhibition celebrating ten decades of the Museum's existence in Wilmington opens with a ticketed preview party Friday Oct. 19 from 5-7 p.m. John Ravenal, the Contemporary Curator at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond, selected work from 97 artists for the show. My piece The Song of All Days, oil on panel, 36 x 72" I've been told has a wonderful spot in the show with a wall of its own.

If you're in the area please come by and say hello, and enjoy the exhibition.

The Museum asked three of the artists included in the Centennial show to teach as part of their Regional Concepts series of short workshops. That Sunday afternoon, Oct. 21. from 1 to 5 I'm teaching the first offering.

I will teach a landscape painting and drawing workshop that's open to artists from all levels of experience. 

We'll start with a look at some of my own drawings and oil paintings and see a few examples by landscape masters of the past. As the Delaware Art Museum has some great pieces by Winslow Homer, John Sloan, Andrew Wyeth, Charles Burchfield, and of course our old friend Edward Hopper, I think I'll use them as good examples. Then we'll head outside to do some small landscapes of our own. Fortunately the Museum's Education Wing has big windows with good views in case the weather turns against us. 

If any readers of this blog want to participate and would like some extra feedback on some of their other paintings, sign up and bring them along. I'd be happy to look at them with you.


New York Solo Exhibit: George Billis Gallery Dec. 11 - Jan. 19, 2013. Opening reception Thursday Dec. 13, 6-8 p.m.

Baltimore Solo Exhibit,  Katz Gallery, Friends School of Baltimore, Jan. 2 - Feb.18, 2013

Exhibit of Paintings of Hopper's Interiors: Nyack and S. Truro: Isalos Gallery, Stonington, ME
Aug. 2013

Saturday, October 6, 2012

My 14th Residency in Edward Hopper's Cape Cod Studio

I'm just returned from Hopper's studio in South Truro on Cape Cod. With the exception of one sunny day we had terrible weather but on the whole enjoyed a stellar time. For an artist like myself I can't imagine a greater honor than to stay in this studio that is just dripping with art history.

Hopper's paintings speak to a lot of people. Hopper combined a remarkable openness to his surroundings with an almost maniacally rigorous selectivity. To put it another way, he saw more than most and chose only a tiny percentage of his perceptions as material good enough to make his art. For example this photo of the spot where Hopper spent half of each year for three decades might look to many artists like a perfect source to do sweeping deep spaced beach panoramas. But instead Hopper's imagination was usually more stirred by interior spaces, architecture, and a human presence. 

The above photo was taken last week standing about 1/3 of the way down the path Hopper would take to reach his beach on Cape Cod Bay. The studio is built at the crest of a 60' high sand dune and has unobstructed views in all directions. To take full advantage of this, Hopper put in a ton of windows on his studio (designed it himself ). When you're there you can't help but be struck by the natural light that floods over everything you see. In many ways the place where Hopper made many of his famous paintings is so like his light-filled canvases.

Moving indoors, here's one of the new vine charcoal drawings I did looking out the window to the left toward Cape Cod Bay and to the right into his painting room with his simple store bought wooden easel in the distance.

Hopper Bedroom Two, vine charcoal, 8 x 12", 2012

I knew I wanted to take full advantage of that same light Hopper had so enjoyed. To get this view I had to wedge myself in between the two single beds in his tiny bedroom. Here I am about 3/4 of the way through working on the drawing. I always take my portable French easel along so I can work standing up. Doing that makes me more talented (seriously, it does).

The source combined a panoramic distance, Hopper's partially opened bedroom closet door and a glimpse of the much larger space of the painting room. Tying this all together were strong cast shadows sloping down across the molding of the closet door. I liked the drama of these shadows, so I made a point of toning down the contrasts in the moldings on the door.

It's funny, as the studio's furnishing are fairly sparse, but you immediately realize that architecture in Hopper's day had a much more developed richness of detail than our more bland contemporary window frames and doorways. Working in his studio I was reminded how much of what Hopper accomplished as a painter stemmed from the personality he sensed in the buildings of his time.

Hopper usually worked just during daylight hours. Evenings he'd often sit in front of his fireplace and muse. Here are my feet toasting themselves the first rainy night we were there in front of the fireplace in the painting room.

This is me coming back up from the beach on the winding long path that snakes its way over the undulating sand dunes. It's not far to the water as the crow flies but on foot it's a hike.  In the distance you can see the studio with its wonderful 10' tall north facing window. Between all the surrounding water, the highly reflective sandy beaches and soil, and that marvelous over sized north window, Hopper had great light to work under. 

I have a whole new batch of photos of the Hopper studio and surroundings. They'll be showing up in upcoming blog posts. And shortly on my website we'll open up a new page reserved just for them.