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by Christine Barnett. London, UK
Foreword. I was lucky enough to visit Madrid and their celebrated El Museo de Arte Thyssen-Bornemisca which featured an exhibition on Hopper. Edward Hopper, was a prominent American realist painter and printmaker, engaged with a technically modernist approach, but with a hint of utopian rationality. He breathed a breath of fresh air into the art scene.
Hopper was born in 1882, and was a good student at school, showed talent early on and readily was prepared to absorb his families intellectual tendencies and love of French and Russian cultures. His parents encouraged his art and he showed an early interest in nautical subjects. His personality and vision boarded on the obvious projection of his character and view of life through his art, and his permanent reluctances to discuss himself and his art, it seems he left a lot of interpretation open which is part of good art. He simply used to sum up his art by stating, ‘’The whole answer is there on the canvas.’’
‘’Hopper was stoic and fatalistic—a quiet introverted man with a gentle sense of humour and a frank manner. Conservative in politics and social matters, he accepted things as they were and displayed a lack of idealism. Cultured and sophisticated, he was well-read, and many of his paintings show figures reading.’’ Hopper often embedded psychological meanings in his paintings, and was deeply interested in Freud. He wrote in 1939, ‘’So much of every art is an expression of the subconscious that it seems to me most of all the important qualities are put there unconsciously, and little of importance by the conscious intellect.” His most systematic declaration of his philosophy as an artist and a painter came, in a hand written note, titled ‘’Statement’’, submitted in 1953 to the journal, Reality: “Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world. No amount of skilful invention can replace the essential element of imagination. One of the weaknesses of much abstract painting is the attempt to substitute the inventions of the human intellect for a private imaginative conception. The inner life of a human being is a vast and varied realm and does not concern itself alone with stimulating arrangements of color, form and design. The term life used in art is something not to be held in contempt, for it implies all of existence and the province of art is to react to it and not to shun it. Painting will have to deal more fully and less obliquely with life and nature’s phenomena before it can again become great.” The non-verbal dialogue between the viewer and the painter is often misconducted so, much so that I have noted before, (see my previous article Bucket Man) that it could be easier to produce exhibitions constructed of words alone. However, this alone, would not bridge the points of view but would create an even a greater gap between cultures, mentalities and therefore intended interpretation. Franz Kafka had more to say about the ‘’introspective solidute’’, he wrote, ‘’ you do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quite, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet’.”
One of the main features of exhibition was Edward Hopper’s “Hotel Room’’ 1931. The piece was created in an era of The Great Depression which is heavily outlined in ethical and technical perspectives through arranged furniture, light and gloomy colours. The figures, as they often do in Hopper paintings stand alone. The suit cases still unpacked in a tight conformed space, perhaps to represent the immediacy and intolerance of the circumstance. Perhaps, to represent the claustrophobic restraints imposed by the lack of finances, which he felt in his early life while studying in Europe. The painting features a woman and depicts a woman’s story which is left untold, again stories which are prominent and strong, and yet, are left often unfinished in his works. The curiosity of great art, is the interpretation of the viewer, in this case Hopper’s fatalism shines through the emotionless face of the heroine. Hopper’s depressive state which resonated throughout his life is reflected in his technique emphasizing his subject with empty emotions. He achieves his primary technique of solitude and sadness through playing with certain slants of light of blue and grey, balancing on utopian edge with a modernist approach through realistic lighting. One of the main features of exhibition was Edward Hopper’s ‘’Hotel Room’’ 1931. The piece was created in an era of The Great Depression which is heavily outlined in ethical and technical perspectives through arranged furniture, light and gloomy colours. The figures, as they often do in Hopper paintings stand alone. The suit cases still unpacked in a tight conformed space, perhaps to represent the immediacy and intolerance of the circumstance. Perhaps, to represent the claustrophobic restraints imposed by the lack of finances, which he felt in his early life while studying in Europe. The painting features a woman and depicts a woman’s story which is left untold, again stories which are prominent and strong, and yet, are left often unfinished in his works. The curiosity of great art, is the interpretation of the viewer, in this case Hopper’s fatalism shines through the emotionless face of the heroine. His focus was mainly in favour of trains, locals and places of popular entertainment. ‘’House by the railroad’’ was held as his first mature painting. The work almost immediately after was acquired by Stephen Clark. The mysterious power of the image later served as an inspiration to Alfred Hitchcock for the ‘’haunted’’ house in his film ‘’Psyco’’. ‘’Two comedians’’ which were featured in show and acquired by Frank Sinatra, depicting two clowns alone on the stage, presumably after the show has finished and ‘’all the lights had turned down’’ as often premeditated in show business. The painting reflects his consciousness of loneliness the artist shares with stars and other entertainers in their roles as outsides. The exchange between cinematic influences on Hopper and his influence on cinema have always been a compelling dialogue. Hopper’s way of researching and exploring images in his paintings through cinematic devices i.e. preliminary shelters, use of colour, form and light to create his vision of world through realism and abstract has always been the tools of director, art director and cinematographer to tell their stories. Hopper was trained as an illustrator and his projection of self was through telling stories on paper, rather than projecting his subjects focusing only on technique. His visual narratives were ‘’strictly cinematic’’ and his ability to transcend the illusion of reality and corner the viewer with his thoughts and feelings completed some of the narratives. The show is billed as a retrospective, however some works which contributed significantly to an understanding of his art and works are missing. This is noted and reimbursed, if you like, with an installation complete with a moving figure that allows the viewer to understand the significance of light in his work. It injects his love for the cinema, imparting his vision to the audience while physical Illumination within the installation and architecture engage in an expressive exchange. This was the Hopper Effect: everyday life touched with ‘’secular sanctity’’ and the show gives a good glimpse of how he could have developed it, through prosaic scenes and monumental architecture, standing on fatalistic grounds with a sinister, but genuine smirk.