Edward Hopper: analysis and meanings of his paintings

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The horizontal lines, unlike the vertical ones, relax the soul. Like the horizon, they place you in a condition of calm and contemplation.

The aesthetic key of Edward Hopper’s paintings is the “horizontality” of the lines, in a combination of selected scenarios and light.

Light, the main character of Hopper paintings, covers and discovers buildings, people, recreating the absolute in the scenes and transmitting those silent moments full of life.

“You know, there are many thoughts, many impulses that go into a picture–not just one. Light is an important expressive force for me, but not too consciously so. I think it is a natural expression for me.” 

The revolutionary aspect of Hopper’s painting is this combination of light and how the scenes are taken and represented.

Edward Hopper, The Barber Shop, 1927

In his paintings all the represented people are absorbed by something and they are observed without being aware of it, almost secretly. In a secondary moment of their lives.

Edward Hopper, Lighthouse and Buildings, Portland Head, 1927

Even the landscapes, the houses are seen sideways, in lateral or incomplete images, therefore from an intimate perspective. His glimpses were used by cinematographic art, the new and contemporary art in Hopper’s years. A revolutionary vision, because until then, in theater, everything was always on stage.

In his paintings, light directs the gaze and permeates the moment of intimacy of the observer, simultaneously revealing also the intimacy of the people observed in the scene.

Intimacy moments of the painter-observer coincide with those of the observed people: intimacy calls intimacy. As can happen in real life, without knowing each other.

That’s why, with Edward Hopper, we can say: light is intimacy.

Edward Hopper, Rooms By The Sea, 1951

Edward Hopper said:

“My aim in painting is always, using nature as the medium, to try to project upon canvas my most intimate reaction to the subject as it appears when I like it most; when the facts are given unity by my interest and prejudices. Why I select certain subjects rather than others, I do not exactly know unless it is that I believe them to be the best mediums for a synthesis of my inner experience.” 

And again:

“My aim in painting has always been the most exact transcription possible of my most intimate impression of nature. ”

In these secondary scenes, represented in his paintings, life unfolds and shows itself to be pure and absolute, beyond the purpose of the individual, beyond their thoughts, the emotions of the protagonists: Hopper never painted those.

What really matters to him is life itself.

“I didn’t want to paint people gesturing and grimacing, what I wanted to do was paint light on the side of a house”

Edward Hopper, Gas, 1940

The men and women of any social class, the singer, the clerk, the gas station attendant, they all find an universal space and they are taken up in the absolute, where life takes place.

Every scene seems to want to recall a sense of loneliness and estrangement. In his works, solitude was considered his specialty, the backbone of his art.

But Hopper didn’t like this interpretation. Tired of people pegging his paintings as depictions of isolation, he once told his friend Brian O’Doherty: “The loneliness thing is overdone. It formulates something you don’t want formulated.”

In the documentary Hopper’s Silence, when O’Doherty asks: “Are your paintings reflective of the isolation of modern life?”, after a pause, Hopper says: “It may be true. It may be not true.”

In his being an impressionist, almost metaphysical, Hopper didn’t want to communicate anything other than his feeling, his intimate experience. He said: “Renoir said that the most important element in painting cannot be defined… it cannot be defined and perhaps it is better.”

The main character of Hopper’s paintings is the light, which allows us to feel ourselves into the world. It’s the experience shown by the poet-painter, and we have to thank the light for the images that Hopper gave us.

Cover image: Edward Hopper, Room in New York, 1932

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