On Wednesday’s class we focused on Edward Hopper and his technique. We looked at a number of different pieces by Hopper and we identified trends which appear throughout his works. The element which stands out to me most when I look at an Edward Hopper painting is the darkness. Even when he is painting the simplest of scenes his work evokes a dissonance which makes me uncomfortable.
This dissonance was present in the painting “Seven A.M.” (1948), which shows a store placed in the middle of a forest. The white of the store creates a sense of purity, and simplicity, but it is placed within the darkness and unknown of the forest . The picture of these two things together doesn’t sit right with me as the viewer. This darkness is also evident in his painting, “New York Interior” (1921). At first it seems simple, a girl sitting on her bed, but after looking at the scene for more time I get the feeling that once again something is not right. The girl has her back to the viewer which makes it seem as though we are intruding on her in some way, and the framing of the scene with what appears to be bed curtains, paints the viewer a voyeur, lurking in the shadows. The curves of the girl’s body also adds to the darkness of the scene. Although we can only see her back we can tell that the girl is relatively young yet the curves of her arms suggest that she has had to work hard in her life.
The element of being watched without your consent is also evident in his painting “Nigh Shadows” (1921). The aerial point of view of a man walking at night alone on a street draped in disfiguring shadows makes it seem as though the man is being followed. Not only is the painter watching him as he walks, but his own shadow seems to be stalking him as he hurries down the desolate street. In addition to the structure of “Night Shadows”, this painting reminds me of Cat Steven’s song “Moon Shadow” which creeped me out as a child. The idea that a shadow could be alive and following you and that you could never really escape it made me scared out of my mind when I first heard it.
Even Hopper’s “Self Portrait” has an air of darkness to it. The slant of the picture and the manner in which looks at the viewer through the corner of his eye makes it seem as though he is asking the viewer, “What do you see when you look at me?”. His confusion brings a sadness to the picture, as well as a vulnerability. As an artist he knows how art is picked apart and analyzed, so by offering up his self portrait he is offering up himself to be picked apart and analyzed. He looks at the viewer with a suspicion which suggests that he may not be comfortable with their interpretation of him. He doesn’t trust to viewer and this adds a darkness to the painting.
Despite the darkness motif present throughout his work, I think that Edward Hopper’s darkness speaks to a deeper truth…that there is no light without darkness.