Friday, March 8, 2013

I Always Paint Standing Up. It's Edward Hopper's Fault.


















I always paint standing up. It's Edward Hopper's fault.

Hopper's talents came in many forms- one that few people remark on is his restless tendency to always be walking around searching out a better point of view. So often looking at one of his paintings one immediately thinks "Gee I wouldn't have though to look at it from that odd angle." Because he kept moving around, Hopper found the unusual point of view others would overlook. It let him tell us things more ordinary artists missed. 

Take this lighthouse in the 1927 watercolor above, Rocky Pedestal, that's from the Carnegie  Museum in Pittsburgh. Instead of parking his Buick and setting up the easel in the parking lot Hopper kept searching. Carrying paints, brushes and an easel,  he  scampered down over some rather inhospitable sharp rocks and peers up from below. He's found a viewpoint where the rocks loom in importance, fully holding their own against the white houses and tower. 

See how he pushes the color in the rocky foreground to warmer ochre yellows and contrasts that right up against the cooler whites of the houses. Did it look this way in real life? Probably, but most likely Hopper accentuated the contrast of his warms and cools here. It's interesting that compared to the whites employed for the lighthouse tower itself, the whites in the horizontal band of houses is a cooler, more blue white. It was looking at his lighthouse and the adjoining rocks together as a chord of colors that led him to put more color change in his lightest whites. (I wonder did they teach rock climbing when Hopper went to art school?).

I am always impressed by how Hopper modulates the highlights in his paintings like this to give an extra measure of brilliance to his sunlight. For bright light, nobody tops Hopper. 

It's also intriguing how Hopper emphasizes the prominent blacks and dark grays of the foghorn, shingled roofs, and dark windows. In contrast the shadows in the foreground rocks are pretty much all lightened up to a middletone. He wants the arresting geometry of the blacks to grab your eye, so he's willing to tone down the contrasts in all his adjoining areas. 

Lastly, think of all the paintings of lighthouse towers that have been made over the years. I bet only about 1% of them (or less) cut off the top of the tower as Hopper does here. He was radical, pursuing his key idea and then cutting away all the other forms that might distract from his message.






One of the things that struck me when in 1983 I first stayed up in Hopper's Cape Cod painting studio was the drama of his 10' tall north facing studio window. Hopper designed it to flood his large painting room with the abundant natural daylight he loved to paint under. Less important to him was the actual view out the window. Here below is a photo I took this last Fall during my 14th residency in his studio.























By anyone's lights it's a lovely view, commanding a wide panorama of undulating dunes and distant Provincetown, MA on the horizon. In short it looks like everyone's stereotype of what a "Cape Cod Landscape" should look like. Even thought this view was right at hand, Hopper pretty much ignored it as a subject. To him I think it felt too much like someone else's idea of what a landcape should look like. He never painted it. He was too busy going for his walks. He knew the good stuff, the really incisive points of view he wanted for his paintings, had to be found by walking.

Time to put my shoes on.

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