Sunday, April 13, 2014

Edward Hopper

Although it was never a complete thought per se, while visiting the exhibition of Edward Hopper drawings at the Walker Art Center, that I have lived with a misapprehension that Hopper was a fellow Midwesterner. That is, I knew enough of his biography, that he was from Nyack, & that he lived on Washington Square North in Greenwich Village most of his life, yet somehow, internally I shifted him much further inland.

The palpable isolation depicted in his paintings can seem more Midwestern, where even in cities it seems rare to see others. In Hopper's paintings the few figures depicted are puppet-like, with faces like masks and bodies more akin to plastic figurines than to individuated rendering.

Hopper's scenes also waver between a plein-air rendering and images that are an amalgam of traits: the late-night diner in Nighthawks is a hybrid of places in the West Village, on Greenwich St, and the sharp north corner of the Flatiron building (now a T-Mobile store if I am remembering this correctly). While the view from the platform of the Williamsburg Bridge, at Clinton St on Delancey, is extant although the bridge platform is now rebuilt - it was still "as is" & recognizable from when I lived in the Lower East Side.

If I thought of Hopper as a Midwesterner I somehow dragged him along with me in my own youth in the Lower East Side & downtown Manhattan, & the view from the Williamsburg bridge, or the sharp light on the Doric columns of an apartment building off of Washington Square now embody my memories much more fully than any other revisitation. There's an awkward weightiness to Hopper's paintings, an inability to lapse into any sort of spatial abstraction, which brings up another displacement: how much like photographs they are. What kind of painter is Hopper? If he is a regionalist that region has been pared down to some attenuated architectural fragments; other than some vague intimations of office work, or clerks in hotels, nothing much is going on, maybe there's travel somewhere, by train or car, but what destination? Any location seems incidental. If Hopper as a painter is tied to realism, it is a realism that is stripped of signage or language, or any sense that language could potentially direct; it collapses into mute forms. There are early drawings done in Paris in the exhibition by Hopper that are pure caricature, after which all recognizable types flatten into toy figures in which the thingness of things in the scenes becomes the subject instead.

The exhibition at the Walker affected me much more than I anticipated. At the risk of reducing it all to my own neurotic tics, Hopper was a kind of ghost for me, who I had brought along with me all this while, from Michigan to New York City, & then seeing it mapped out in Minneapolis - indeed I put myself in walking distance from Hopper's studio, without knowing it, in my own youthful randomness. The view from the bridge, which I know from the painting at the Met, which is in the show too, the views around Washington Square & Greenwich Avenue - it all comes back, in a different form. It made me miss New York City so much.