Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hopper Drawing Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art


Perkins Youngboy Dos Passos, 1941, fabricated chalk on paper, 15 x 22", Josephine Hopper Bequest

Had the great pleasure of viewing the pivotal Hopper Drawing exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York last Friday. Organized from the Whitney's vast holdings of Edward Hopper's work on paper by Carter Foster, the museum's Curator of Drawing, it is nothing less than a godsend to anyone who loves Hopper. The show continues through Oct. 6, 2013 and is well worth the trip. If you can't get there in time, the exhibtion catalogue (which includes a long quote from me in it's notes for Chapter One) is excellent with extremely well done illustrations. 

Hopper was unusual among 20th century American artists for his habit of doing numerous drawings in preparation for most of his major oil paintings. Foster has paired a number of major Hopper oils with some of the drawing studies that led up to them.

But since Hopper was a man who knew how to enjoy his eyes he also drew just to celebrate the act of looking. Above is a drawing of one of his cats, who was affectionately named Perkins Youngboy Dos Passos (the Hopper's neighbor and friend on Cape Cod was the novelist John Dos Passos). It's informal, but still a masterpiece of sharp observation and design. 

Here it is upside down:



Inverted like this it's easier to notice the exquisite care Hopper takes in studying the silhouettes of his cat. Notice how the top and the bottom outer contour lines on each of his poses are different. Hopper is milking the uniqueness out of each of the images for us. Anyone who has ever tried to draw their cat from life (I once did and found myself starting over literally 15 times until I got the sleeping kitty right) can appreciate what a masterpiece of seeing this drawing is.



Jo Hopper Reclining on a Couch, 1925-30, fabricated chalk on paper, 15 9/16 x 18", Josephine Hopper Bequest

Here's Jo Hopper modeling for her husband accompanied by some helpful pillows and blankets. In this detail Hopper does a blissful pairing of Jo's upraised knee with two pillows at the left that create a perfect rhyming shape.



One of the great truths is that life is rarely as random and disconnected as it appears to the casual observer. Artists like Hopper spend their lives searching beneath the surface of things for hidden patterns. Once discovered,  they base their drawings and paintings on them. 

Hopper probably rearranged both Jo's pose and the arrangement of the pillows over and over until through squinted eyes he seized on this intricate overall pattern of figure and her surroundings merging together into an amazing energetic design. 



Here it is upside down, which I always feel makes the abstraction in a drawing easier to see. My own drawings and paintings spend a lot of time on the easel upside down like this when I'm deciding how to make them.


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