Friday, April 11, 2008

Hopper Was Here

I have always been moved by the paintings of Edward Hopper, the great American artist of the first half of the 20th century. People have told me that my work is sometimes "Hopperesque," a reference I think to my own attraction to alone, solitary things. Hopper's work could be summarily characterized this way. But beware. His work goes deeper than merely memorializing a single subject. There are strong pyschological elements to his work that inspire a certain brooding emptiness that can have great effect on the viewer. I found a photo of the house that Hopper and his wife lived in on Cape Cod and make a painting of it:

Hopper's House, Truro, Cape Cod
Oil on Masonite 14 X 11

It wasn't hard to capture that lonely feeling. It was all there intrinsic in the scene. I used a somewhat muted palette for emphasis, but the bleakness of the place argues that Hopper was attracted to isolation, too, though in person he was recalled as a likeable, gregarious guy.
There was an exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Art early last summer (shared with the National Gallery and Art Institute of Chicago). I didn't get to go, but some friends did and they, knowing my affection for Hopper, gave me a book published by the Boston Museum called simply "Edward Hopper." It is a wonderful compendium of his work and life. I found the photo of his home (painting above)in this book.
Hopper's life as an artist can be focused pretty much on four areas: Gloucester, Mass., the city--primarily N.Y., Cape Cod and the coast of Maine. His Maine work included settings in Cape Elizabeth, the next town down the coast from where I live in South Portland. His paintings of the Two Lights area in Cape E. are especially haunting. It got personal at a show last summer, when a woman stopped by my booth and bought three of my pieces. She asked that they be framed in a certain way, so I had to deliver them a few days later. It turns out that her house is next to one of the lighthouses that Hopper had painted! She also invited me to paint there. I was at once delighted and fearful--like I was trespassing on sacred ground. But I took her up on it and painted this:

Hopper's Lighthouse
Oil on Canvas 20" X 16

This was painted on site. I had to go back several times to finish it. I was shown the location that Hopper used, but I didn't think I'd go that far! Besides, this area in the 20s when he did these pieces was practically bare and I'm guessing that that was what made this an attractive subject to him. Today, the hill is covered with foliage and there are large houses here which have a fabulous view of the bay and beyond. In fact, my patron let me paint this view from her deck:

Casco Bay From Two Lights
Oil on Canvas 20 X 16

The place where Hopper painted the lighthouse is in the middle left of this scene on this side of the big house. Again, this was painted plein air, but because of changing atmospheric conditions, light, etc. I locked in on a point in time and finished the piece in the studio.

So, that is a short recap on my experience with Hopper during that brief period. I got back to thinking about him now that the weather is moderating. Perhaps I'll go back to Two Lights with my gear to paint in a few weeks. Maybe I'll try a city scene. Such is the allure of this great artist. It lasts a lifetime. I hope it visits you.


Frank Gardner said...

Nice trio Jack. I think your work goes beyond just the isolated subject as well. Your style is also similar and you are also a likeable guy.
Lots of good stuff in the foreground of Hopper's House. I think I have seen the Lighthouse one before. I enjoy it a lot and the story that goes with it. Next time go for the same spot as Hopper.

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

Yes, thankfully the weather is getting back on track. I hope that in a few weeks, you'll be able to get right back out there to paint on site.

This post on Hopper was very informative and I enjoyed seeing your work that echoes some of the places where he painted so many years ago. It certainly is beautiful subject material.

Jack Riddle said...

Frank--Thanks for the compliment! But I don't know about the likeable guy part... When we get together in the fall, I think you'll see that some of your "lessons" are sinking in, hence the foreground work in the Hopper House piece, plus I'm finally getting how to mix and use grays. Thanks, buddy!

Jack Riddle said...

Hey Vee--this week is supposed to be spring-like--temps on Thursday supposed to be in the 60s. Hooray! Still some pockets of snow in shady areas and around shopping mall parking lots where it had been piled 20' high. Give it another two weeks. I haven't found many Hopper pieces with snow in them... Thanks for the nice compliment on the post. I try to make them informative. Jack

rob ijbema said...

all three are good Jack,i like the compositions and the foreground of the hopper house is just right,convincing with loose detail.
good to see you so inspired!

Jack Riddle said...

Rob--good to hear from you. I'm feeling more comfortable with loose work, but it has taken some time to get there. Frank has helped me a lot and also I see how concentration on details sometimes impedes the work of some of my painter friends here in Maine. Love your work, btw.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful paintings. I enjoyed learning about Hopper and his surroundings.


Elizabeth said...

I can understand why people call you work Hopperesque
I'd take that as a BIG compliment.
I really love Hopper's work.
One of my absolute favorites in 20th Cent. America.
Sometime sort of melancholy.
Your work is really engaging.

Ann Reyes said...

Nice paintings! I'm so glad I found your blog. I'll be checking back often.

Jack Riddle said...

Elizabeth and Ann--thanks for your comments. I do take the "Hopperesque" comments as compliments, but I have to find a way to get under the skin the way he does.
Ann--I checked your blog and love your work. I'll visit yours often, too.

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

I like it.
I also love Hopper and some of my paintings have also been called Hopper-esque. A Huge compliment!
I did see the show in Boston last summer and also saw a retrospective of his work at The Whitney in 1995. Last summer my friends and I found the cottage and painted a view of it. We we trespassing but while we were painting some people drove up in a van looking for the house. I sold my painting at my Open Studio and my friend Paula Villanova recently won a prize for her version.