What Edward Hopper and Charles Burchfield Showed Me
At my gallery talk last Friday evening on my current exhibition at Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, NY I spoke about my development as a painter. Above is a photo taken before the crowd arrived of me standing with my painting The Voyage of Memory, oil on canvas, 38 x 38". That's a favorite of mine that combines some serious notes of my personal history with a tip of my hat to Thomas Cole, the great grandfather of American landscape painting. Putting elements like that together is a bit unusual in today's art world. There was a time when I wouldn't have had the temerity to paint like that.
Beginners start at the beginning.
When I began painting it was in the then tiny studio art department at Oberlin College. I quickly pieced together what I thought were the essentials of the modern art story: contemporary art had evolved more or less in a straight line from the first Impressionists, then the Cubists, then the Abstract Expressionists. Armed with this reading of art history I honestly thought there was a correct style that all serious painters had to pursue.
After about a year of that I came to suspect I was missing something and began devouring art books in the campus art library. One artist I kept coming back to was Edward Hopper. I loved his shining bright sunlight and his long evocative shadows.
Edward Hopper, Rooms by the Sea, oil, Yale University Art Gallery
Hopper had been included in the historic Amory Show in New York City in 1913, the blockbuster exhibition that essentially introduced America to the waves of modernism that had been sweeping through the art studios of Europe. Hopper went to the exhbition and saw work like the Kandinsky and the Matisse pictured below.
While aware of the shocking avant-garde paintings, Hopper just stuck to his guns and continued his straightforward version of realism.
Another painter I fell in love with shortly after this was the watercolor artist Charles Burchfield.
Charles Burchfield, Sleet Storm, watercolor, Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY
I felt painters like Hopper and Burchfield were doing something closer to what I wanted to do. But just as important their example gave me the courage to strike out on my own with my paintings.