Monday, October 12, 2015

Chapter 14: Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper Gets Company at the Window


Edward Hopper is a curious character. You get an uncertain range of ideas about him. 

 "Sometimes talking to Eddie is just like dropping a stone in a well, except that it doesn't thump when it hits bottom,” his wife, Jo, once said. 

In her diary, she kept meticulous notes about his works in progress as well as their lifetime of battles, some of them physical.

Edward Hopper Cats at the Window / © Deborah Julian
After setting aside her own career as an artist, not entirely but effectively, she promoted and managed Edward’s. She posed for him. She came up with names for many of his paintings. And although it went against her personality, she adopted this reclusive lifestyle in Greenwich Village for the forty years they lived together until his death in 1967.

Biographers focus on their troubled marriage, but when the Whitney Museum set up a large exhibit of preparatory artwork Hopper created on his way to mature canvases,  many were signed with a dedication to “My wife, Jo.” 

His artwork too is full of contradictions. A lot of people love looking at Hopper’s work as if he’s a more painterly, and lonely, Norman Rockwell, a realist documenting the world he found around him. Not so, according to Hopper.

In 1953, he made a statement for 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 skillful 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.”

Art, then, is a subjective abstraction, but it needs recognizable objects. So much for illustrations.
Edward Hopper fans frequently like him because they mistake his paintings for something else. 

Nighthawks is a good example. In this painting, Hopper anchors his view from the darkened street to a lunch counter in the middle of the night on an otherwise abandoned corner in New York City. The image has been popularly repurposed as Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

In the revised version, an artist sees the diner as a hangout for lost icons from pop culture, replacing Hopper’s figures with Elvis Presley working the counter as a soda jerk while James Dean, Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe hang out on the stools, American idols idealized as lost souls, romanticized after death.

Hopper painted it as a place populated by predators, not deceased Hollywood legends.

When Deborah decided to bring Edward Hopper, one of her favorite artists, into Famous Artists Cats, she picked a theme that’s probably more prevalent than any other in Hopper’s pictures: windows.
Hopper’s subjects lean out of windows, gaze dreamily through them and are exposed, often naked, in them. The shades are drawn up to dramatize the accents between inner and outer lives. Most of the time, he sets them up like furniture, there to suggest something, but  not active.

Cats, of course, are always naked, except for bizarre holiday rituals, and no window is incidental to a cat. For Edward Hopper’s Window with Cats, Deborah combines elements from several Hopper paintings, mixes them up and adds some of her own. Then, she introduces Billy and Sam, both of whom instantly do what cats do: they leap to the windowsills for a wistful, but secure, gaze out at the big, big world.