On MLK day, I went to see the last day that the Edward Hopper exhibit showed at the National Museum of Modern Art in D.C. Edward Hopper is famous for several pieces, but most know for his image on a late night cafe in New York. A painting he called Nighthawks.
While this is his most famous work, Hopper was credited for his unique style in a time when many artists were followign trends. I think that it was just his nature that came through in his paintings. Despite many being set in an urban setting, Hopper found the moments of solitude within the story of bustling activity. As I walked through his works, the words “solitude”, and “quiet” came to mind. He painted scenes of moments either just before a lot of excitement or after. Moments of reflection and power, reckoning and self introspect.
He was very good at “Seeing things with new eyes.” In one particular painting he caught a view of a popular harbor in Portland Maine. This particular harbor was painted by several artist’s at the time. But Hopper’s view captured a specific angle that it was almost too difficult to recognize it as the same harbor everyone else was painting.
One of my favorite phrases displayed in the exhibit was a quote about Hopper’s skills. (I’m sorry I don’t remember who said it.) “If Hopper were a better painter, he never would have been the great artist he was.” What a fascinating statement, and yet so true.. It may seem like a cut or a slam, but in reality it laid claim to the idea that even his weaknesses were a part of his greatness. We more often hear statements like “Despite his weaknesses he succeeded.”
Another theme that Hopper captured was discovering how to convey loneliness without depression or sadness. I live alone, and while I’m happy with my life, there is a loneliness that’s hard to describe. Most would say that feeling lonely makes one sad. Sometimes that’s true, but I think there’s also a great reverence in that feeling and a sense of quiet satisfaction. There is a great motivation as well. I think for some it might get them down. I have found in sincere moments it motivates me to serve outside of myself. One technique that Hopper developed was how he played with light in his paintings and views. You’ll always notice a brightness somewhere contrasting a normally dark moment. A solace that accompanies the introspect of feeling alone.
Building on that theme Hopper also painted scenes of people who clearly have a relationship but are living parallel lives, without really connecting. These are some of my favorites of his works, because it shows the contrast between between alone and lonely, and being with someone and being lonely. These are the subtle details, that I find to be the graces of understanding the world around you.
Hopper also did a lot of experiments with light. It create a kind of austereness that set the objects of focus into a particularly unique setting, so that the light was the real focus, rather than the object one might see at first glance. This is another good example of seeing old things with new eyes.
The last work in the exhibit was one called Sun in a Room. When Hopper was asked what the painting was about, he replied. “I was looking for me.” A poignant and powerful work to complete the exhibit with. I can’ really find the words that justify my delight for this exhibit and the principles Edward Hopper worked under. I think that’s why I feel very dearly a picture is worth 1000 words. Even more so, a painting is a view with the lens of another which allows you to see through someone else’s eyes.