I’ve been reading a biography of the painter Edward Hopper. Perhaps “reading” is too strong a word; like many biographies these days, it’s way too long, in this case nearly 600 pages of text plus a ton of notes.
So I’m skimming it; I’m interested in Edward Hopper, but not that interested, and the book itself just isn’t well-written. Where have all the editors gone?
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I was struck by this statement of Hopper’s, as recorded by his wife Jo in one of her diaries ["the Cape" here refers to Cape Cod, and "E." is Edward Hopper]:
The Cape looks so brilliant. E. says it is because the shadows aren’t dark, like Maine. Shadows light, because of greater density of atmosphere. The brilliant light is diffused. A great deal of reflected light keeps shadows bright.
Hopper’s paintings were famous, and have become beloved—despite, or perhaps because of, their brooding atmosphere of solitude.
Light was one of the key ingredients. Hopper said that all he wanted to do was to “paint sunlight on a house.” He certainly did that, but I disagree with the reviewer in the NY Times that that was all Hopper did. Mere “sunlight on (or in) a house” cannot evoke moods quite like these:
And of course, one of Hopper’s most famous paintings of all is of the night and the sharp illumination of harsh indoor light:
It’s all a little gimmicky, I guess. But I think it only looks that way now that we’ve become so familiar with Hopper’s work, so much so that it seems a bit cliched.
It wasn’t a cliche at the start. And it was always heartfelt and uncontrived, which comes through loud and clear; Hopper was a difficult man and probably a loner, despite his long and troubled (and intense) marriage.
So, is the light in Maine different from that in Cape Cod? I’ve been to both many times, and I have to say I’ve not really noticed it.
But then again, I’m not Edward Hopper.