Hidden Little Gems

This is one of Edward Hopper's best "story telling" paintings, New York Movie, from 1939.  Is it possible to look at this painting and not try to fill in the blanks about what she's thinking about? Why does the painting pull us in and make us identify so quickly with the lone figure?Hopper tells us about the woman only indirectly- after all her face is mostly hidden in shadow. But he convinces us she's fully lost in her thoughts. A big part of this comes from how he builds personality into the space that surrounds her. On a gut level, artists grasp the innate expressiveness of shapes. And that patterns of shapes have a mysterious power to grab our eyes and shape our moods. Most people never give this a thought and might be tempted to dismiss the idea. But think for a moment about music. No doubt you have a favorite song. Its distinctive rhythm or harmony has the power to wake you up, bring back a memory, or shift your mood. Music is an abstract pattern of sounds that people literally dance to. Patterns of shapes command us to dance too, it's just often out of our awareness.

Here's my own painting Eye of the Sea, 14 x 28", oil on panel, now at George Billis Gallery in New York.

It was painted from life, with my eye initially attracted to the bold profile of the dark hillside. But within that sihouetted form an intricate pattern of shrubbery was shaking up my expectations that the surface of the hill would be ordinary or predictable. It lent the hill a uniqueness and individual personality. Like the that cast shadow in the Hopper movie theater above, it is a little abstract painting all by itself. 

One of the reasons I keep going back to working directly from nature is she is a storehouse of gem-like little designs like this that make the world feel so much deeper and richer. 

In the previous blog post I was analyzing Joseph DeCamp's oil The Blue Cup.

Studying his model he discovered some exquisite little passages where the patterns of shapes sound just the right visual chord. For example, who would have thought the back of the woman's hair could have such a surprisingly distinctive silhouette as this?

Or that her waist, the white apron, and her black skirt would come together into this intricate bouquet?


  1. Nice, all of this, but I particularly like what you say about Hopper (no surprises there, eh?)!


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