Monday, September 5, 2011

Shedding More Light on Mr. Hopper

Since posting my Edward Hopper piece, I've been doing some thinking, mostly due to a few comments that forced the issue. I talked in the post about how my topic was light, as well as the passing of summer, but I lost some sleep last night because I felt a nagging sense that something was amiss in this post. I woke up early this morning, very early, trying to get to the bottom of that twinge of unknowing. Then, I realized I'd given the wrong title to one of the paintings. So, I got out of bed, went to the computer, and made the correction (just a little OCD).  Since I was there, I read and published the newly posted comments. Then I went back to bed.

And then, I really couldn't sleep. A comment left by Cletis, who talked about how he found the Hopper paintings  "terrifying" and "upsetting,"  left me unsettled. Maybe, just maybe, I needed to take a look at this.


Well, I have to admit, a part of me certainly understands that someone could, indeed, find them unsettling. It's not an emotion I'm entirely unfamiliar with as it relates to these paintings.

And then there is George's comment, which arrived this afternoon, in which he talks about Hopper's characters, who seem to have a propensity for,  "wondering...endlessly wondering what is out there, how one person, so seemingly insignificant, fits into the larger scheme of things,"  noting that he found it reassuring that others are also wondering....  And that got me wondering, mainly because I could relate to it.

So then I had to ask myself, why did I focus on the light?   Am I unwilling to look at the shadow?   I know the shadow has no power except that which I assign to it, but am I choosing to simply ignore even the idea of a shadow?  And if so, at what price?

When I was working in the art gallery , one of my favorite clients came in and we somehow started talking about Edward Hopper. He had just finished reading a biography about him, and he told me that Hopper and his wife, Jo, according to the biographer, fought like cats and dogs, regular knock down, drag outs. If this is true (I'm not entirely convinced biographers can remain objective about their subjects), then it goes a long way towards explaining the sense of isolation he seems to have felt. And, although his paintings appear to be about light and shadow, the shadow seems to be the real subject of his work.

Anyway, I may or may not ponder further. My inclination is to just keep moving. All will be revealed.  In the meantime, here is a Louis Jenkins prose poem that seems rather apropos. If you recall, he's the poet from Duluth whom Mark Rylance quoted in two Tony acceptance speeches. I've discussed my fondness for Mr. Rylance previously.

Here's Mr. Jenkins:


The time has come to say goodbye, our plates empty except for our greasy napkins. Comrades, you on my left, balding, middle-aged guy with a ponytail, and you, Lefty, there on my right, though we barely spoke I feel our kinship. You were steadfast in passing the ketchup, the salt and pepper, no man could ask for better companions. Lunch is over, the cheese-burgers and fries, the Denver sandwich, the counter nearly empty. Now we must go our separate ways. Not a fond embrace, but perhaps a hearty handshake. No?  Well then, farewell. It is unlikely I'll pass this way again. Unlikely we will all meet again on this earth, to sit together beneath the neon and fluorescent calmly sipping our coffee, like the sages sipping their tea underneath the willow, sitting quietly, saying nothing.

~ Louis Jenkins

Images: Edward Hopper's  "Compartment,"   "Empty Room,"   "New York Movie"   "Room in Brooklyn,"  and  "Nighthawks."


  1. Great follow up, Teresa. One can dwell too long and one can sometimes not stay around long enough to hear the voice of the silent. I love this poem; having been there many times I know it to be true. Here's another poem that fits well with Hopper. Sort of where I am these days.

  2. Funny how viewers tend to project themselves into a painting. I guess it cannot be helped. Or perhaps that is the point of art or what makes it work for us. I've always found Hopper's work comforting, but then that may be because I relate to ideas such as isolation, separation and alienation, and the play of light/dark or good/evil and find some sort of validation for my way of thinking. It is rather the way I think. Surrealism is what I find disturbing. Good food for thought.

  3. Cletis, Thank you for prompting me to do a follow-up with your thought-provoking comments. Yes, I am planning to listen to the silent as I fall asleep tonight.

    Edward Arlington Robinson is certainly a poet who understood the human condition. From the poem in your link, "There was not much that was ahead of him, and there was nothing in the town below," captures it very well. thank you for including that.

  4. Towanda, What we bring to a piece seems to determine what we take away.

    Isolation and alienation were constant companions for much of my life, but our connection to one another has become my raison d'etre in recent years and I find it fascinating.

    Thanks so much for your comments.s

  5. Hello Teresa:
    We have been most intrigued by the follow up comments and post to your previous writing on Hopper's works.

    This has served to confirm our thoughts that, for us, it is what is omitted rather than what is included that beguiles and demands attention. And, as you say, depending what one brings of oneself and one's own experiences to art, so the result can be so very different for each individual.

    From our own experience of acting as guides in the Contemporary Art Museum in Budapest, it is in knowing the background to the artists that one begins to fully appreciate what they are trying to say. We should not be surprised, therefore, that there is a darkness to Edward Hopper which can reveal some of what he is conveying in his paintings.

  6. Jenkins gives us a shared moment to illustrate what he found enjoyable in a moment of his life.I think Hopper is doing the same, sharing his moods and thoughts. I enjoy this type of share, it better gives my readers a bit of me to understand my life better.

  7. Jane and Lance, I am often intrigued by the comments that follow a posting. They allow me an opportunity to explore an idea further and elucidate my own thinking. This has certainly been the case with Mr. Hopper. I don't imagine I'm done with him yet, but will probably give my readers a break.

    The background of an artist is frequently what people want to know about, especially so once they've established a deeper connection with a painting.

    Steve, OOTP, Thank you for your comment about sharing our moods and thoughts. I would imagine that is at the heart and soul of any painting. The artist is sharing something of themselves, something that, hopefully, others can relate to. sort of what we're doing here. I am appreciating the opportunity to get to know our fellow-bloggers here in our cyber community. It enriches my life and expands my horizons.

  8. Both of these posts, today's and yesterday's, are filled with contemplative thoughts as well as intelligent comments. I am at a loss since I wasn't familiar with Hopper before your introduction (and it's hard to admit this) but I also find the quiet in his paintings unsettling somehow. I am enjoying all this and you are expanding my horizons. thank you...

  9. Q: What does a microbiologist say about Hopper paintings?

    A: Hey, I like those!

    There are a hundred stories waiting to be written from every one of his works.


  10. I've enjoyed your last two posts immensely and alot of the Hopper paintings I hadn't seen before. I too find something unsettling in his paintings, I can appreciate their brilliance. But would I wish for one on my wall? I'm not sure.

    I greatly enjoy your writing. As for us lot enriching and expanding your horizons, you certainly do that for us at each posting!

  11. DJan, One of the things I love about blogging is that each of us brings something of value to the table. I love what you bring. It's like the tastiest of organic dishes. :)

    GLD, Roxanne, We need our resident microbiologists viewpoint, too! And, yes, a hundred stories in each. Wanna try one? Really. It could be fun. I Know it would be fun. :)

    Jane, HHITS, I had his "Early Sunday Morning" hanging on my wall for years, but it's a street scene with no human subject, per se. The subject there seems to be more about the light. It now hangs on my son's wall. He likes it, too. Would I want one of his figures? Depends on which one....

    Thanks for the kind words. As in my comment to DJan, we each bring something to this cyber table that's of value and I'm enjoying this convivium immensely.

  12. Wonderful post and what an enlightening conversation that follows both Hopper posts, Teresa. This is what good blogging is all about.

    Wouldn't it be fun to use one of Hopper's paintings for a writing project with say 13 year olds? You know, that age we all pass through where we are lonely just getting through puberty and are minds are like sponges, soaking everything in. I'd love to hear what they would say, what kind of story they would write, or poetry.

  13. Penny, LOTCO, That, good woman, is an excellent idea. And then repeat the exercise in a few years. They would show some real changes, wouldn't they? I remember my own years of adolescent/teenage angst all too vividly. It eventually led to writing bad poetry and reading Updike too early.

    Oh, and thank you much for the generous words of encouragement.

  14. I love Hopper's art...Why don't my comments get through Teresa ??

  15. Paul, Your last one got through, so I'm not sure to which you're referring. You commented that Hopper is your "favorite American artist. Period." It's there, as is my response!

  16. My now-deceased younger brother was an artist and art teacher (public high school in Hawaii). I wonder what he would have said about your posts. As for me, Hopper's art is foreign to me, as I had never seen it until now. I am always open to new ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  17. GiGi, I would imagine Hopper has his place in every art school. He's considered a major American artist, but not to everyone's taste. I love being introduced to new ideas. I'm glad you do, too.

  18. Hopper's painting give me a feeling of great loneliness.
    Even Jenkims prose sounds lonely to me. They dine together, but alone.
    Or maybe it's all just my state of mind right now.

  19. LadyCat, I agree that Jenkins poem is a lonely one. Despite the very close quarters in which people might find themselves, the connections are tenuous. So much of life is that way.

    It does come down to our present state of mind, but your feelings certainly are shared with many others.

  20. The only Hopper piece I'm familiar with is Nighthawks, and that one is very unsettling.
    There is so much emotion projected by it that is not intrinsic in the piece. The inside is numb and static--the outside howls with pain and loneliness!

  21. How apropos to be reading this post regarding "shadows" when I am currently working on shadow work myself. I think that we are never rid of our shadow. It is part of us. According to what I am reading: "The shadow is a region of the psyche. Nothing exists in it that is beyond our power to dissolve. Instead of allowing the shadow to victimize us, we must seize the control switch and reclaim our true function as creators."

  22. Ms Sparrow, So glad you came by. Thanks for that observation. Yes, I think it may be the looking in from the outside that captures those feelings you're referring to. Maybe? That voyeurism is very present here, and we are the ones looking in from the outside, as was Hopper. The darkness outside the diner speaks volumes.

    Thank You!

  23. Hi Teri, It sounds like you're doing some important work. I really like the statement, "Nothing exists in it [the shadow] that is beyond our power to dissolve." That's an excellent piece of information for all of us to have. Thank you so much for sharing it here.

  24. I was just at another blog looking at the work of Gustav Klimt and was reminded of another reason I like Hopper so much, and that's space. With Hopper there is space to breathe whereas with an artist like Klimt and the others who used the pointillism technique everything seems crowded and to me this makes Klimt's work seem rather chaotic and Hopper's serene and peaceful. Even though he shows his characters alone and separate much of the time, they appear to be rather meditative and alright with this. To sum up, light and space and contemplation = Hopper.

  25. Towanda (I keep wanting to add Power Woman!), I like Klimt's work, but you're exactly right about the lack of breathing room. Those two are a good example of the possible avenues for art and the diverse ways we can express ourselves. And, contemplation doesn't have to be dark and morose, although I think there is a melancholia that seems to pervade most of his pieces. It's interesting, too, how we each assign properties based on our own personal history. Thanks, Linda!

  26. I can place myself in every one of these paintings; a hundred stories do come to mind. I, too, identify with isolation, separation, and alienation and am somehow comforted by these paintings, knowing others feel, have felt, the same way. Since they evoke so much feeling I could have anyone of them hanging in my home and be glad of it. Towanda brings up a good point about the empty space or lack of empty space in art, I will ponder this thought. And then there is the wondering, yes the wondering.

  27. Well this is sure a lot of to-do about these wonderful paintings of Edward Hopper's
    This was a shy and quiet man who said...
    "The only real influence I've ever had was myself."
    "There is a sort of elation about sunlight on the upper part of a house."
    "What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house."
    I love his use of light and shadow. I love his colors and the unique way he saw the world.
    The quiet despondency of his subjects is probably just a reflection of his feelings about his paintings being intellectualized to death.
    We will see what we wish to see.
    I love his paintings.

    I loved your blog.
    I find your writing really refreshing... like "sunlight on the upper part of a house."
    Keep wondering and sleep well tonight, my dear.

  28. I can't see myself in these lovely pictures they are very film noir, very narative and they appeal to the voyeur in all of us.

  29. Hello Teresa! Thank you for telling us about Edward Hopper. Every Hopper-painting tells a special story - or a novel. He's a fantastic artist. I love the light in his work, often a golden light. There is a Danish painter, Hammershøi, who's also got a quietness in his paintings. His light is cool Nordic.

    Please look at the lady in the Hammershøi-painting in my sidebar on Thyra. His paintings are also like drawn away from the observer so that you'll have to use your imagination to find out what the picture is hiding. And there is a loneliness and quietness in them.

    I think the Hopper-paintings you have showed us in the last two posts are fantastic and wonderful. I love them and I wouldn't mind to have one of them hanging on my wall!!! I like the quiet feeling in his paintings. There is so much fuss about nothing in daily life sometimes!

    Thank you for the Joan Baez song.
    Nosehugs to Buddy! Hope he's ok.

  30. Linda S., towanda made a very good pint. It is often the space that says as much as the objects that surround that empty space. Both, used well, are what we're responding to, I believe. Yes, each holds many stories, stories we would assign based on our own experiences, of course. Thanks for your thoughts.

    farmlady, Well, that's the nature of art, isn't it? We each bring our emotional make-up, our personal history to everything we see, especially art, and our response is based on that. And, we can often walk a way changed, with a new perspective.

    I'm sure Edward Hopper was a multi-faceted man, as are we all. You might want to read the additional comments on the previous post in which David, an artist who also paints in "soft realism," talks about the biographies of Hopper he's read and Hopper's desire for the light.

    Most of my wondering is found in softer light these days, and much easier to let go of. For the record: I slept seven and a half uninterrupted hours last night, something I almost Never do. So, thank you for your wishes and thoughts around Hopper's work.

  31. Linda, I don't know if Towanda makes a very good pint, but she does make a very good point. :)

  32. Grethe, I did check out the painter on your side bar and have been looking at his work, which is similar to Hopper's. I am always grateful for being introduced to painters I'm unfamiliar with and so I thank you. I like his work and you've described it beautifully; the same lonely quietness that's often found in Hopper's work.

    A good painting will include enough to help create a narrative, in my opinion, but leave something for the viewer to sort of fill in.

    I'm glad you enjoyed seeing these paintings. I have loved them for reasons I can't even articulate very well, ever since I first saw that postcard and became more fully aware of them.

    Buddy is doing great. Growing! He's resting in his chair after a little time outside this morning. He's a sweetie. And hasn't eaten any of my maps or guidebooks, yet. :)

  33. Mister D, Thanks so much for visiting my blog. Film noir does describe them well. And, yes, there is a bit of the voyeur in all of us. I appreciate your comments.

  34. Paul, You're very welcome. I trust all is well in your corner of the world. :)

  35. I read your earlier Hopper post but was prevented from commenting.
    What I had to say would have taken a long time to write, there was no time to do so.

    All has now been said. Suffice for me, that nearly all of Hopper's pictures evoke a feeling of kinship in me, not something I dislike or fear at all, because that is how I live my life, isolated and moving in and out of the shadows. Even blogging is like that, as bloggers we are in shadow, never wholly revealing ourselves. (Okay, I don't mean those who write detailed accounts of their day to day family lives).

    I like the way you probe and search for answers.

  36. Friko, I really like your comments here. It brings up again that notion of masks you and I have talked about, that we perhaps wear sometimes in blogging. Maybe not everyone does, as you suggested, but there is much to my life that I will more than likely never blog about.

    Searching for answers is what I do. Looking at the possibilities. I can't stop myself. It's Life for me. It doesn't mean I don't have peace around the issues, but I find it interesting, meaningful and, most of the time, it's fun. Thank you, Friko!

  37. Wow, Teresa,

    Such a fruitful dialogue! You sure know how to engage your viewers--as does Hopper. Your additional and personal comments are as intriguing and insightful as your posts. I'm grateful to have been introduced to you. Now to find out how to be notified each time you put something new up...even if it's not about my favorite artist. :-)

  38. David, I'm so glad you want to stick around. You never know what you're going to get. Heck, I don't know what you're going to get until I start typing. It's kinda fun. I'm so grateful for your remarks (excuse me, remarques) here. Is that an art pun?

  39. Oh, I didn't answer your question: there's a sidebar button just beneath "Our Community" where you can subscribe. I hope you do.

  40. "Evolution of Knowledge is 'Dangerous'...It is such when we discover how great our 'home' is, when we re-discover how wonderful and brilliant we really have it, outside of the 'Human Condition' we are in spirit...then for some, all they would want to do is return. This is the danger to the Human Experience. So then we 'did' decide to enter into the Human Experience, with the loss of all prior knowledge...should we have a constant reminder of our 'true' home of the 'Source' then this Human experience could not occur in the way we wanted and in compliance to the design. We have even forgotten that we decided to participate for this 'unique' Earth venture...even with all our challenges..was meant to be! We eventually return to the 'Source' our 'Source' whom we are, with the 'Human'experience no matter how it all turned out. It is not that the 'spirit' has amnesia, but the physical body..has never had experiences prior to birth, and our 'soul spirit' occupies the body as our vehicle...and what a wonderful vehicle we have. So when and if you decide to 'remember' also remember 'You have decided to go though this experience...your "Free Will" will never be compromised...Love would have it no other way!"

  41. So Bill, what an interesting and intriguing comment. I would expect no less from you. :)

    If there is, then, a danger to this human experience, that we would yearn to go home (I have actually used those words on occasion, when feeling alone and uneasy, and have posted about it), should we be allowing the questions of enlightenment and awakening and ven salvation go? Just enjoy this human experience for what it is? I think I'll send these questions to you on FB in case you don't return. You have me curiouser and curiouser... :)

  42. Bill, I suppose I should add: perhaps Hopper didn't have the language to express his feelings about this except through his paintbrush. This looking towards "home" is what I always feel when I see the image of the woman in pink sitting on the bed, looking out the window.... We call it melancholia, but perhaps it's not an adequate word.