Edward Hopper. Project influence.

Edward Hopper 'Morning Sun' 1962

In my previous posts I have spoken of sculptural forms that are formal and exist very much as an object that occupies space. I have also spoken of sculpture where the object itself is self contained such that its relationship to space is not an essential part of its 'being'.

Edward Hopper has always been an artist I admired beyond the boundary of the form of painting. I have seen his work directly at the Whitney Museum in New York as well as visiting his home near Washington Square as a tourist and to try and appreciate more a work I love of his 'November Washington Square'.

There is a certain New York feel to his work that I didn't find in my time in Los Angeles. I think another New York painter Peter Halley explains well that living within the gridded structure of New York inevitably had a visual impact upon his sensibility. Hopper also for me has always exhibited his work within the theatrical still frame or visual grid which beautifully holds the stillness of his figures and light.

Hopper has had a huge influence upon other aspects of the visual arts such as in photography and cinema as well as having a definitive role in American visual culture and areas of its self perception. It isn't possible to listen to Kerouac's 'September in the Railroad Earth' for example without seeing Edward Hopper's paintings or to see Hitchcock's cinematic styling without feeling Hopper in part behind the lens. I personally looked at his work for my project from a sculptural perspective, which doesn't dismiss the former but I was certainly more interested in examining the spaces he left empty or intuited by light or its lack rather than ideas of a central character. My connection wasn't to his figures or ideas of the voyeuristic gaze but rather with the intricate details of the relationships he constructed in his paintings between spaces. As Motherwell reduced Picasso to essential form of pure black verticals and ovoids one can look at Hopper and feel the same possibilities he leaves for sculptural reduction.

I think from a minimalist perspective the empty space pulsates as vibrantly as the occupied space. I always admired Hopper's ability to narrate emptiness and make it an essential part of the story of his work. There is a feeling of the Hegelian 'becoming' in his paintings as if the piece is a fragmentary moment between a past and future but not quite a present. In my final piece I searched for this feel of 'becoming' as if the sculpture is almost between one utterance and another.

I found in my early post regarding Craig Dworkin's essay concerning Stan Brakhage an interesting discussion about the material corporeality of the eye as a vessel through which objects are perceived. This led to some sculptural ideas which I posted regarding the eye acting as a surface through which perception has to pass. In the case of my project I was looking at visual distortion or elements of visual information that were altered via the diseased eye or damaged visual mechanism. In terms of Hopper one can see a parallel in that the window in many of his paintings are either seen through by the observer or else looked out of by the protagonists of the painting. The mechanism (window) itself is not damaged or distorted in Hopper's paintings but there is a sense of psychological alteration that journeys through and via the medium of the 'window'.

In both Dworkin's analysis of Brakhage and in my own independent examination of Hopper's paintings I find a similarity which is perhaps best described by a quote found in Merleau Ponty's 'Phenomenology of Perception' “To return to things themselves is to return to that world which precedes knowledge, of which knowledge always speaks.” Thus the window, visual mechanism or process through which things themselves (objects) must travel to manifest themselves upon our sensibilities are part of the procedure of perception. In Hopper's paintings one might say it is a reflection upon looking either as the internal process or as the external unnoticed observation.

This is perhaps why Hopper's paintings are somewhat unnatached from the things they depict. They seem images of no place and at the same time every place. The psychology of perception is at the heart of his work and it is this unsettling realisation that makes his work so powerful. This process is also central to the experience one has of the best minimalist sculptural forms. One transcends the object alone and is at once made aware of the charged generated in the surrounding space.

In my project it was ultimately this charge I found fascinating in examining Hopper's work. I was inspired by primarily abstract painting, however in Hopper's case, where he clearly was the ultimate American realist , I still felt he had a profound similarity with the abstract expressionists. It is interesting that in my later reading what I first felt as an emotional similarity seemed to have been historically echoed in Gail Levin's introduction to the Whitney museum retrospective. Here she quotes Carl Baldwin from his article 'Realism The American Mainstream' 1973 “Even during the 1950's his (Hopper) reputation was secure. and artists sometimes coupled Jackson Pollock and Edward Hopper as twin poles of American individualism and artistic integrity.” Hopper won the respect of abstract artists although he himself did not reciprocate their admiration.

I think it is important to find influences in all spheres of the arts and not to simply restrict oneself to the medium one might be working in at a particular moment or for a specific project. I have attempted to reflect this diverse approach in my blog entries and to explain what aspect of a particular artists work in a particular medium I found inspiring.


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