Edward Hopper argued that “Great art is the outward expression of an inner life of the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world.”
Hopper, the man, loves nature and loneliness. His wife Jo called him an apathetic bear. Their friend Soyey one day went to visit him in their summer house in Cape Cod. He found Hopper sitting in the sofa, contemplating the hills, while Jo watched the ocean in the opposite direction. Hills for him, ocean for her, and when their lives were crossing, the controversy started. Hopper was inclined to silence, taciturn but also endowed with a strong sense of irony. He was not very fond of mankind, he found it noisy and vapid.
Observing his works, the anxiety that shines through the various painted scenes is a constant.
The observer is hit directly, forced to exit his safety zone and be swallowed by the vortex of the sense of loss, the alienation that the picture emanates.
The artist doesn’t want to tell anything specific, but it is the same stylistic figure that creates the discomfort. The famous white canvas, Hopper’s white. The italian critic Roberto Longhi used to call it “The liquid solemnity of the zenith lumen”, a sort of moral mirror on which we can cry, the veiling sadness strewn with the surreal, each character is lost within his own world.
Among his favorite subjects there are glimpses of life in the quiet apartments of the American middle class, often seen behind the windows, during his travels. Pictures of fast foods, cinemas, become real icons.
Edward Hopper represents one of the greatest painters of metaphysical realism, perceptive Master of the alienation of the United States in the early 1900. He used to say that, when he painted, he tried to use nature as a mean to fill his famous white canvas. The most intimate reactions of a subject, which at that precise moment represented an interest to be imprisoned on the canvas.
Several art critics like Clement Greenberg, the leading exponent of abstract expressionism, wrote about Hopper: “Hopper simply happens to be a bad painter. But if he were a better painter, he would, most likely, not be so superior an artist.” But you know, critics are critics, they used to say that Cezanne was a dauber. Hopper’s paintings certainly don’t leave indifferent, the brushstrokes are harmoniously blurred, they manage to capture the light in a unique way.
He had a marked reluctance about interviews. One of the very few, in which Hopper explains how his art is born and what the observer can see in it, is in the video that you find below.
Asked about what his paintings talk about, once he said, “They talk about me. The picture is my inner, an immense floating ocean, a self-portrait in search of himself”, adding “All the answers are on the canvas. The man’s the work. Something doesn’t come out of nothing.”
Four years before his death, in his Sun in an Empty Room (1963), Hopper rises to a unique mysticism. A strong sun illuminates these emtpy rooms, drawing a perfect square on the wall. A mature Hopper, at the turn of its life, gives this last dominant painting, the light that directly affects the subjects, to amplify the sensation that he wants to transmit.
When Brian O’Doherty asked him what’s behind that painting, Hopper replied: “I’m after me.”
Cover Image: Edward Hopper, Four Lane Road (1956)