Suggested Research – Edward Hopper

Garry Winogrand extolled the virtues of looking at other arts and elements in normal life to give inspiration. Russell also suggested that I take a look at the work of Edward Hopper.

Edward Hopper 1882 – 1967

Edward Hopper  was a prominent American realist painter and print-maker. He died in 1967 and sadly his wife died ten months later. She bequeathed their joint collection of more than three thousand works to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Other significant paintings by Hopper are held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Des Moines Art Center, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Hopper mainly painted from two primary sources: the common features of American life  and its inhabitants and seascapes and rural landscapes. Urban architecture and cityscapes also were major subjects often depicting the city as desolate and dangerous.

Hopper’s individuals, usually depicted isolated and disconnected from their environments either literally by glass windows or metaphorically through formal means, are manifestations of the artist’s focus on the solitude of modern life. The starkness of detail and unmodulated revelatory light in many works builds a tension, drawing the viewer’s attention away from the given subject, and suggesting much about his emotional experience. In this way, the artist’s work acts as a bridge between the interest in everyday life exhibited by the contemporary Ashcan School and the exploration of mood by later existential artists.

He loved to create moods and atmosphere by using light and shadow: bright sunlight (as an emblem of insight or revelation), and the shadows it casts, played ‘symbolically powerful roles’ in Hopper paintings such as Early Sunday Morning (1930), Summertime (1943), Seven A.M. (1948), and Sun in an Empty Room (1963). His use of light and shadow have frequently been compared to ‘the cinematography of film noir.’ His use of saturated colour also heightened the contrast and created mood and atmosphere. Rooms by the Sea touched on the surreal.

Said to be  attracted to ‘an emblematic, anti-narrative symbolism’ he ‘painted short isolated moments of configuration, saturated with suggestion’ with his ‘silent spaces and uneasy encounters…[touching] us where we are most vulnerable.’ The images are said to have ‘a suggestion of melancholy.’

The best-known of Hopper’s paintings, Nighthawks (1942), is one of his paintings of groups. It shows customers sitting at the counter of an all-night diner. The shapes and diagonals are carefully constructed. The viewpoint is cinematic—from the sidewalk, as if the viewer were approaching the restaurant. The diner’s harsh electric light sets it apart from the dark night outside, enhancing the mood and subtle emotion. As in many Hopper paintings, the interaction is minimal. The restaurant depicted was inspired by one in Greenwich Village. Both Hopper and his wife posed for the figures, and Jo Hopper gave the painting its title. The inspiration for the picture may have come from Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Killers, which Hopper greatly admired, or from the more philosophical A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. In keeping with the title of his painting, Hopper later said, Nighthawks has more to do with the possibility of predators in the night than with loneliness.

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