Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Edward Hopper

Nighthawks, 1942
Just finished reading "Edward Hopper", by Lloyd Goodrich, published in 1978. A massive book, it has hundreds of large images of Hopper's etchings, watercolours, and oils. I have recently taken a renewed interest in Hopper, and hope to visit an exhibition of his work in Paris this October.

As you can see in his iconic "Nighthawks", Hopper was masterful in his handling of light. Most of his work features very strong contrasts of value. Notice how he uses a wedge shape to create an interesting composition.

Automat, 1927
Room in New York, 1932 
One of Hopper's favourite subjects was the interior of buildings, especially brightly lit rooms, sometimes seen from outside.

Born in 1882, Hopper was certainly exposed to the influence of Impressionism, particularly during his two years spent in France. He drew inspiration, though, from earlier artists, like Courbet and Daumier, who used light and shadow to model form. Hopper depicts buildings in all their solidity, with the benefit of shading and cast shadows.

From Williamsburg Bridge, 1928

House by the Railroad 1925

Often Hopper took an unusual perspective on his subject. Sometimes he viewed a building from an elevated vantage point, and at other times employed more of a "worm's eye view", looking up at his subject. Going up on a roof to paint, he was as likely to focus on the roof itself, with its vents and chimneys, as on the view from the roof. Notice how in the two paintings above he places a strong horizontal in the foreground of the frame, separating the viewer from the subject. Much has been made of the sense of alienation Hopper creates in his work; this device of a strong barrier between viewer and subject contributes to that feeling.

I like the strong horizontals and verticals in his work, and the grid-like pattern of windows and doors.

Lighthouse Hill 1927
Lighthouse at Two Lights 1929

Many of Hopper's paintings use a limited palette of the complementary colours blue and orange, and all the neutrals that might be created by mixing these colours together. At other times, he employed touches of very saturated colours, sometimes to strengthen the effect of a lit room surrounded by darkness.

The Circle Theatre, 1936
Early Sunday Morning, 1930

Approaching a City, 1946
Examining Hopper's techniques closely has encouraged me to consider making greater use of strong darks and lights to suggest the forms of buildings and to create stronger visual interest.

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