Sunday, September 4, 2011

Edward Hopper and the Passing of Summer

For the past week, Edward Hopper has been paying a visit to my inner life. I think it's the play of light that tells me summer is waning and fall is on its way. I have felt it in the air for well over two weeks now. One day it's distinctly summer and the next the air is tinged with an indescribable feeling of transition. We've made the turn into shorter days and softer light. A breeze has taken the few leaves that have fallen and created a small pool of gold and brown under the crab apple trees outside my kitchen window. There is the soon-to-be last mowing, the final apple picking, the grapes that are almost ready.

Hopper stated in an interview, "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."  When I see his paintings, I get the sense that something has just happened, or is about to happen, that we are viewing, in an almost voyeuristic way, the emotional details of someone's life, details usually kept hidden from the outside world.

Many of his subjects seem to be in isolation, as though disconnected from others, from life. One gets the distinct feeling that Hopper himself felt disconnected, his life lacking in any true intimacy.

Even his houses carry that feeling of being disconnected, adrift on some nameless sea.

I no longer feel that sense of isolation from the rest of the world, a feeling I often grappled with in my early years and throughout the 1980's. When I went to the Picasso exhibit at the Walker Art Center I purchased a postcard depicting Hopper's painting, "Seven a.m."  It immediately spoke to me, as though I was calling up some long buried memory of a time and place I once inhabited, perhaps inhabit still somewhere in this vast universe. Despite the feeling of melancholy it evoked, I also began to feel a pull towards a greater connection with something, to other souls who were seeking connection, a sense of place in the world.

Edward Hopper's wife, Josephine, who was often his model, was also a painter. As with many artistic couples in the past, it was usually the woman who was relegated to a lesser position in the art world, who took the back seat, whose work somehow never made the splashy entrance into our consciousness. Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner come to mind.  Perhaps that's why I'm drawn to Hopper's painting of,  "Jo in Wyoming,"  in which he clearly is viewing her as being in the front seat, painting. But, I'm getting off topic.

So, what is my topic?  I don't think the topic is melancholy.  I don't feel melancholy at all. It seems that doesn't play a role in my life nearly as much as it used to. I think the topic is light. I have been noticing often this summer how it plays against the curtains as it falls through the window, how it moves, creating the shadows that lie on the green lawn, and now, as we move through these final days of summer, it often hides behind the clouds only to emerge a short while later and it does this all day, until dusk takes hold.

Last night, after visiting with a friend on the phone and going over the summer, what it brought for both of us, and just as valuable, what it didn't, I stepped outside and onto the lawn in my bare feet, looked up at the Big Dipper hanging just above the treetops, and said goodbye to summer. Perhaps a tad premature, but I felt it was time. Somewhere in the distance, fireworks were going off.

Will I miss the intensity of the summer light?  No, I can't say that I will. I have long preferred the fall. It's my favorite time of year. I'm actually looking forward to the projects I'm lining up for the winter. I'm going to go back to practicing the mandolin and break open those watercolors that I bought last year, try my hand at what I know is a difficult medium to master. We shall see what happens. Mostly, I just want to continue to stay present to my life and appreciate every single day, watching the light as it moves through the seasons.

While I thought about this post - Edward and Josephine, summer light and falling leaves - Joan Baez' song, "Diamonds and Rust," came to mind. She and Bob Dylan went their separate ways, each to follow their own life, through their own art. There are brown leaves falling and snow in his hair, but it was the line about Washington Square that gave me permission to post this, bringing together what might appear at first to be disparate subjects. Edward Hopper died in his studio near Washington Square back in May of 1967. Josephine followed him ten months later.

Here is Joan:



  1. I saw nearly all these paintings in New York last year and enjoyed them very much. He's a wonderful artist.

  2. Hopper's characters all seem to acknowledge their separateness even when next to another person, evoking this sense of overall aloneness and for me this validates much of how I feel in my own life. The light of a given place makes such a difference to me also and I think it is much of what can serve to make a place special, like the light of Santa Fe or even the light here in Oklahoma. The clouds just seem bigger here than they do in California.
    Personally, I have no qualms whatsoever about saying vaya con dios summer, and am looking forward to fall also.
    I really enjoyed this post Teresa.

  3. Yes, light has a very big impact on me as well, and autumn light sometimes just glows. I love this Joan Baez song; it gets me every time. Except for the lines "Your eyes were as blue as robins' eggs, My poetry was lousy you said." To me, those two lines stick out like sore thumbs and in always want to say (okay, I do say), "Joan, maybe he was right." But the rest of the song is fabulous.

  4. RZ, Thanks. Glad you liked it.

    Jenny, What an eye treat that would have been. One for the soul, too. How wonderful.

    Towanda,Yes, the light in SF was spectacular, and I swear, I've never seen bigger clouds than those I saw over SF. The light on all this green is a real treat, too.

    His people do seem to acknowledge their separateness, as though they prefer it, or it's become the natural way to go through life, despite the loneliness that also seems to be there. I think I've learned to feel less lonely and more happy with being alone. It's been a good distinction for me to learn to make.

    Nancy, The light evokes an unexplainable feeling, yes, it's that soft diffused glow.

    I've had trouble with those same lines, but for another reason. I feel he was being a tad judgmental, And if he was Bob Dylan, well, he could have cut her some slack. :) Either way, it's among my favorites. Glad you like it, too.

  5. It's been so long since I heard that song by Joan Baez, brings back pleasant and distant memories, what a wonderful song writer and singer. I much prefer the light of spring and fall than the blazing light of summer. Here the sun is so intense it's almost blindingly so. I love how the paintings are of everyday scenes, yet so much feeling is captured in them.

  6. I love these paintings. I'm appallingly, inexcusably ignorant about art, but every one of them speaks to me.

  7. I haven't thought about Edward Hopper in a million years... I really enjoyed this look back! Thanks so much!
    PS Love your buddy!

  8. These paintings are terrifying to me. They rip away all protective layers and distill the terror of life like a Carver poem or short story. Truly upsetting for me.

  9. Hello Teresa:
    Yes, there is something slightly melancholy about all of Hopper's work, but that in no way distracts, rather it enhances, the power of his painting which does, as 'good' art should, allow one to pause and reflect. In so much of his work it is what is not included which speaks such volumes.

    As for the passing of summer it matters not, we feel, for each season brings its own interest and joy.

  10. Yes, it's all about light. There is wonderful light in these paintings as well as in all our seasons. This last year or longer I have been so very aware of light and, because of it, I have come to enjoy every season, each has it's own light.

    I am very interested in your playing the mandolin and also the watercolours, one being my favourite instrument and the other my favourite medium, only I can't play an instrument myself and I am a novice with watercolours.

  11. Linda S., I'm glad the song spoke to you,as well as the paintings. I can well imagine that Florida sun can be rather intense. Thanks so much. I always appreciate your thoughts and comments.

    Linda M., We've probably "discussed" this before, but art is such a subjective thing and I'm no art "expert." I have spent a great deal of my life around it, studying it, but most important, appreciating it, and that always boils down to what speaks to us, and what emotions we bring to it usually determines our response. One doesn't have to be an expert to respond and appreciate. I'm glad these spoke to you.

  12. Ann, I'm so glad you dropped by. It's good to meet new people. I'm happy to remind you of Hopper, and thanks for the comment on Buddy. We proud "parents" always appreciate that. :)

    Cletis. Well. This is not the first time I've heard someone respond to Hopper with what you describe as "terrifying." I've been awake since four in the morning thinking about this and what I may do is revisit this post with additional thoughts. What you bring up is intriguing. And I'm a big Carver fan. I do see that comparison. Hopper certainly stripped away the veneer of life and the absolute vulnerability we humans often seem to face. I'll give it some more thought.

    Now,I need to take a nap.

  13. Jane and Lance, I appreciate your response. It is about what is not included as much as what is. I think that hearkens back to my thought that it seems as though something is about to happen or has just happened. In each circumstance that something is left "unsaid."

    As for the passing of summer, it is good to come to that place where we see each season as offering something of value. It's staying in the flow of life this way that allows peace to settle into ones life. Thank you.

    Marilyn, thank you for you own thoughts about the light of each season. It is such a good thing to become aware of.

    As for the mandolin and watercolors, I am very much a novice, but I'm hoping to improve and have fun while doing so. Your own watercolors have been inspirational to me, and I thank you.

  14. Hopper is my favorite American artist - period.

  15. Love the post, and love getting into the mood of Hopper's work this way. Fall might have hit here in the last 24 hours after temps of 100 last week. Now going to have hot tea on the porch.
    The song was an "our song" for me and another artist who went separate ways (but stayed friends) over 35 years ago. Thanks for posting it.
    Jeanne K.

  16. Autumn light takes on a life of its own, doesn't it? I love this time of year as well, Teresa, and we have been having a few most spectacular days here with crisp breezes and bright slants of light.

    What a wonderful post. I was fortunate to be able to see the Hopper exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago a few years ago. Hopper was paired with Winslow Homer, which I found interesting. Many of the paintings you show here in this post and others you have shown in the past of Homer were exhibited. Their use of light is spectacular, though their paintings quite different. You remind me of a pleasant journey, twice, through the galleries that year. Once with my husband, who enjoyed it, and once with a friend, who does watercolor but had never been to the Art Institute. I took her as a gift and it was one of those times when the giving of the gift was as rewarding as the receiving of it. She almost got us thrown out as she couldn't resist getting right up to the paintings, interested in technique, all to a voice in the back saying "ma'am, do not touch the painting" - more than once.

  17. Hi Paul!

    Jeanne, Hot tea on the porch sounds good. I'm glad it's cooled off a bit for you, and I"m surprised how many people can relate to this song. It's such a great one, isn't it?

    Penny, You have a great place to view art. Two of my favorites artists. I have had my own close up encounter with a van Gogh. I did not behave myself at all. I like to think Vincent didn't mind.

  18. This is a beautiful and thoughtful post, Teresa. I enjoyed it immensely. Though light is your topic, i still find myself focused on the isolation of the lonely figures in Hopper's paintings. There is great melancholy here, and strangely, I find it somewhat reassuring that there have always been others, sitting on doorsteps, perched in windows, resting on barstools, wondering . . . endlessly wondering what is out there, how one person, so seemingly insignificant, fits into the larger scheme of things.

  19. George, I've actually given some thought to whether I have focused on the light in order to avoid really seeing these human beings again in their silent isolation. I have in the past, of course, but for this post I chose the light and it has given me pause for thought... Why?

    Anyway, I guess that puts the exclamation point to your idea: we are all wondering, "endlessly wondering what is out there..."

    Thank you for these very thoughtful comments.

  20. Edward Hopper's work is a treasure and happily a number of these are new to me. I've never seen "Jo in Wyoming" and really like it.

    Fall is my friend. As soon as it passes, I begin to look for it's return. I love that light play potential. Bright daylight I can do without. The stuff migraines are made of.

    Joan Baez is magic. Everything about her gets better with age. The last concert I attended of hers, a few years ago, seemed to go by in a flash. I kept sweeping back and forth through time as she ran through songs. When Diamonds and Rust came out, it sparked my first guitar purchase. Can't begin to tell you how many bad renditions of this song I played for an audience of one. My cat, Omar. No clapping, but there may have been a standing ovation, right before the walk out.

    Another wonderful opportunity for exposure to new things. Thank you Teresa!

  21. Oh, Chris, I just love your comments. Thank you so much.

    It was chilly this morning, but it felt good, bracing.

    I love that you know that song intimately. I'm sure Omar was very pleased. Cats can be vague. I didn't pick up the guitar until I was in my 40's. I bought one as a Christmas gift to myself. A white Fender. I played Nancy Griffith's "Brave Companion of the Road," unmercifully.

    And I plan to again this winter.


  22. "Cats can be vague". Thanks for another good laugh. I've been searching for a picture of him lately in hopes of giving him a little blog CPR. He had a couple of special talents, one serving him better than me.

    Now "Brave Companion of the Road" makes for a perfect intro. Any Griffith/Evangeline harmonies? There is no mercy for those in the vicinity of a new string player. Actually, that might be merciful compared to listening to a novice high pitched horn player who can't read music. If she were here, you could ask my mom. :) Bad, it was VERY bad.
    Hugs, Chris

  23. Chris, I'd love to see a photo of Omar.

    As far as harmonies, Nancy would give me a wide berth probably.

    Clarinet. You have no idea. Well, maybe you do.

  24. Well, as a matter of fact. Yep. Clarinet. E Flat. We did it again. Buzzer. Groucho Marx is wiggling his eyebrows. Duck drops down with a note which says...good grief, go to bed, both of you.

  25. Chris, LOL. I love it. I stumbled down the hall about midnight.

  26. Wonderful paintings and post. I love the door opening to the ocean. Nice work:)

  27. Will, glad you're back from your "top-secret, super awesome location." Thanks for stopping by. That painting has an interesting appeal to me, as well.

  28. Teresa (my Mom's name and spelling!),

    I very much appreciated your insights into Hopper's work. It was his art that inspired my own journey as a painter. Many feel the loneliness which resulted from Hopper's shortcomings as a social being, and he downplayed; he didn't speak much, but wow—-could he express himself visually!

    I take from his work something similar to what you said so well:
    "...a greater connection with something, to other souls who were seeking connection, a sense of place in the world." To me solitude is of great value when balanced with our relationships. Great post!

  29. David, I have just returned from visiting your site. My. You do lovely work. Your header image really speaks to me. I can certainly see the Hopper influence, but you have found your own style that make them distinctly your own.

    It is important to have that balance. Thank you so much for visiting. It's allowed me to meet someone new and discover a new artist whose work appeals to me very much

    Teresa :)

  30. Thank you for visiting my site and for your kind comments. I see you've furthered the conversation in "Shedding More Light on Mr. Hopper" based on a number of excellent comments. And more Hoppers to see--thank you!

    The biography mentioned was based on Jo Hopper's diary, and so it absolutely was influenced by her perspective, and their relationship. How could it not be? In reading the book, one feels as if he was insecure in his greatness despite all, and often would put down other artists--especially women painters, his wife included--to feel better about himself.

    After interviewing his biographer, Gail Levin, one thing felt true to me: He lived in the shadows (of his mind), but longed for the light. Both aspects factor largely in what we see and feel when looking at his work. And as Ms. Levin reminded me (paraphrasing): it doesn't require a great human being to make great art.

  31. David, I'm so glad you came back and have offered additional insight to this conversation on Hopper.

    Hopper certainly isn't the only artist who has felt it necessary to put down other artists in order to heighten their own perception of themselves. It's too bad that he couldn't see how each artist offers something uniquely their own. But then, I suppose one could say that it was his very insecurity which helped him to create great paintings that we are still talking about. Being an artist, heck, being a human being, is not always an easy thing.

    Gail Levin's name is familiar. I'll have to check out her biography of him. The idea that "he lived in the shadows... but longed for the light," is certainly evidenced in his work.

    In your last statement, paraphrasing Ms. Levin, I'm reminded of something similar Georgia O'Keeffe said regarding Alfred Stieglitz.

    Thanks again, for sharing your thoughts around these biographies. I can well imagine Jo had a distinct perspective. As do we all.

  32. "My poetry was lousy, you said." He was not nostalgic.
    Yes, she had already paid.
    The song so perfectly fits the soft isolation and inner life of these paintings.
    I came over from Linda's Elegant Blessings.
    I must return. :)

  33. Hi Rita! Thanks so much for taking the time to read a few posts. I greatly appreciate your comments, too. I like that phrase "soft isolation." It fits perfectly. Thank you.

  34. i am a big Hopper fan too..i think he is fav is Room by the has nothing in it yet it gives out everything to the viewer of this painting...there's calmness and beauty to the empty room by the's amazing how it conveys everything with almost nothing in it.....

    1. Anj, thank you so much for visiting my site and for your comments on Hopper. He is definitely a favorite of mine. He saw so much with so little...