Edward Hopper was born in the last part of the 19th century and lived until the mid-1960s.
This span of time was incredibly fast-paced, spawning and seeing the end of two world wars, a stifling depression and the advent of an industrial focus in business and technology that grew exponentially.
Throughout all this tumultuous period, Edward Hopper quietly went about life, painting strangely silent works of art that spoke of solitude.
Hopper is an example of an artist who tries to succeed as an illustrator, painting and drawing for mass media in the corporate world. He comes to hate the work and tries to eke out a living as a painter. There is the typical struggle of working for advertising agencies and magazines while trying to define his personal style. He was 31 years old when he sold his first painting, after studying art for over 14 years. However, his long-awaited breakthrough to a life of self-sufficiency did not begin there, and he continued to do illustrative commission work to earn a living.
Throughout this period of his life, Hopper worked in oils and watercolor, then finally added etching to his repertoire. Etching brought him some attention, as he received two awards for his work in that medium. Eleven years after selling his first painting, Hopper finally took off his illustrator’s cap and donned the chapeau of a full-time, independent artist.
In today’s world of commerce, an artist can create art, prepare it for sale, publicize and sell it without ever leaving his studio. This, however, does not indicate that it is easy to be successful. Today’s artists have far more opportunity to present their work than did the artists of Hoppers era. With the glut of artwork flooding the market, Hopper’s years of toil is still a very common scenario for contemporary artists. “Don’t give up your day job” is advice that should be taken to heart.
Variety Is The Spice Of Life
Edward Hopper was talented as a watercolorist and oil painter, as well as creating many commercially successful etchings. An artist need not pick a singular medium and forsake all others. He may have one true voice, but there can be differing qualities of tone to those expressions. A medium that works for a particular subject matter or idea may not be the best choice for all the themes an artist wishes to portray.
Hopper became disillusioned with his oil painting and began to create etchings. He switched gears to renew himself and look at his art from a different perspective. It makes sense to expand one’s horizons, whether it is adventures in fine dining or creating art with a different set of tools and medium. Expanding one’s experience adds diversity and maintains a level of excitement for the work.
Style And Technique
Hopper’s works appear very straightforward. They are seemingly uncomplicated and are painted without a great deal of painterly bravado. The paint is the means to an end. It is secondary to conveying to his audience the place and people he portrays, as well as the mood of the setting.
However, this simplicity is deceiving. For Edward, the completed painting was the culmination of a great deal thought, planning, note taking and sketching. He made in excess of 53 sketches to refine and prepare a composition before painting his work “New York Movie.” He spent a great deal of time just thinking about his painting before actually putting paint to canvas.
Geometry and light are two important parts of Hopper’s style. He used geometric angles, planes and intersections to direct the viewer through his painting and light or shadow to evoke emotion and give focus. Bright sunlight and the dark shadows it casts are important in many of Hoppers paintings and are fundamental in his work. Heightened contrast, by use of saturated color, also helps to create the desired mood.
Although a realist, Hopper’s work is sometimes known as soft realism due to his simplification of details and shapes. The audience is not distracted with unessential details and can therefore focus on the elemental nature and basic tenet Hopper portrayed.
Edward Hopper encouraged his viewers to see the beauty and importance of the mundane places and objects that are mostly overlooked. He also was drawn to architecture. Not monuments of colossal intricacy or startling size, but of a corner gas station, diner or even a porch or window. The unassuming elements that we see without registering beg for a closer look when seen through the brushstrokes from Hopper’s hand. Windows held a special place for Hopper. They show up in many of his works, as either focal points, or viewpoints from which the audience observes the scene.
An artist struggling with developing his own unique voice would do well to consider the philosophy of Edward Hopper. Whether it was conscious or innate, he painted what was true about himself. He was not influenced by the artistic movements of the day, nor did he succumb to commercialization for the sake of public approval. It took him many years, but his dogged determination and unwavering commitment eventually led to his success, both financially and artistically.