We all have favorite things, but sometimes they bleed together and it’s hard to pick a clear winner. I mean, I love Edward Scissorhands, but I have this nagging feeling that I’ve seen something better, even though I haven’t removed it as my go-to answer when asked about my favorite film. I would have a hard time choosing between Ben Folds and Arcade Fire. But I know without question who my favorite painter is. It’s Edward Hopper. No doubt. I think about his art when I paint. I think about his art when I am not painting.
Everyone has seen Nighthawks, or at least the Elvis and Marilyn Monroe version of it. (Gag me, by the way.) Let’s skip over that one and look at some of my personal favorites, in no particular order.
First, Automat. The girl sits at a table, unengaged, sipping her drink by herself in the bright, artificial light. She is alone in a big city, like so many of the people Hopper painted.
Here is another example. The lady in New York Movie is separated from the multiple other people in the theater not only by location, but by purpose. She waits on the film to end so she can do her job while the moviegoers enjoy the show in their leisure time.
It is easy to look at his paintings of people and see loneliness, isolation, the cold, urban world refusing to care for these people as they live their lives on their own. But before we read too much into it all, keep in mind that Hopper himself frequently didn’t see in his paintings what others did. His titles, which often lend a good deal of context to his paintings, were hung upon his art by other people well after the pieces were completed.
Let’s look to Summer Evening as an example. Wikipedia described this one, quite accurately, as “inescapably romantic.” But, if you keep reading the article, you’ll find that Hopper added the people into this painting almost as an afterthought. What he had in his mind for months before was the house itself, alight from the single bulb on the porch and surrounded in darkness. Even so, you can still hear the crickets chirping, smell the grass and share in the sense that these two young people know only of the world at that moment what is shown in the painting: they are illuminated and the rest of everything has faded into the background.
He captured the same feeling of solitude without people in his paintings at all. One of my favorites is Sun in an Empty Room, which contains nothing more than its title suggests, yet suggests so much more than it contains.
Sun in an Empty Room actually inspired me to paint the inside of my grandmother’s house, as far as I can remember. The last time I was inside it was when I was maybe six or seven years old. What I remember of the house fades as I get older, with the exception of the radio console that she kept in the corner and the little drawing of a flower that hung right above it.
I remember seeing an Onion article along the lines of “Radiohead Denies Influencing Local Band” or something like that. that’s probably how Edward Hopper would feel about me. I hear he was kind of a grouch.
Finally, I have to show you Night Windows. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a racier painting. As with the majority of Hopper’s work, we find ourselves intruding. But the idea of voyeurism is taken to a much higher level in this one. Hardly anything is actually shown, which leaves so much to be imagined. Is she alone? What is she doing? How is it that we can see? Does she know we are watching? Would she mind?
So, there you have it, my friends. I hope you enjoy Mr. Hopper’s art, too. There is plenty more to be seen, as well as loads and loads to be learned about the man himself. I recommend starting with his Wikipedia entry and going from there.