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If I could say it in words, I would still use a Hopper painting

July 23, 2017

Edward Hopper is one of the most celebrated modern American painters to date. His paintings are instantly recognisable for their inimitable sense of style, their ability to transform a transient moment into an eternal one, and of course – for being able to distill the feeling of loneliness into one graceful stretch of canvas.

 

Hopper was a born-and-bred New Yorker. He studied art at the New York School of Art and Design, which would eventually become the famous Parsons New School for Design. His career had a slow start – he spent his early working years doing what all creative hopefuls are still burdened with today – pitching his work. But instead of digital portfolio's, showreels, CVs, and cover e-mails, he sold himself door-to-door – with each rejection no doubt deepening that dark hole of insecurity known to all freelancers. 

 

Cover image: Edward Hopper, Room in New York, 1932, oil on canvas, F. M. Hall Collection of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Edward Hopper, New York Office, detail, 1962, oil on canvas, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Alabama

 

Of course he eventually found his audience; as well as his wife – fellow artist Josephine Nivison. She helped him to carve out the sensitive narratives in his paintings, adding layered meaning into every detail – whether inanimate or alive. Storytelling is perhaps why Hopper is a favourite to so many people. His paintings are the visual equivalent of people-watching in a cafe, subway, or bus stop – you're not entirely sure what the protagonists' lives are, but you understand them completely.

 

Critics and fans praise Hopper for his ability to capture the lonelier side of living in large cities. His iconic Nighthawks (easily his most famous painting) depicts a couple of late night leftovers sitting in apparent silence in a cafe which is nearing its closing hour. It's a scene which captures a sense of melancholy that's universally felt by anyone who's come down to earth after a night out on the town. 

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942, oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago

 

 

“If I could say it in words

there would be no reason 

to paint.”

Edward Hopper

 

But the genius of Hopper's art is that it transcends its own context. Sure – it paints a beautiful picture of New York in the 1920 through to the 60s, and Hopper is a genius at capturing the living, breathing style so inextricably essential to the character of the city at that time – but the real magic in it is how that can all be stripped away without removing from the relatability of the characters. This painting is so well-loved because it has retained its accessibility throughout time. Dramatically speaking - it's a painting about us.  

Edward Hopper, Automat, 1927, oil on canvas, Des Moines Art Centre

 

Edward Hopper's art is an anthem for anyone who has ever felt lonely in a place where they should be thriving. And that doesn't mean that his legacy is one tinged with sadness. On the contrary – it's imbued with solidarity and hopefulness. Because there's nothing more comforting than knowing that we've all been in the same boat, at some point or another. Even if that point was in a completely different era. 

READ NEXT: INTERVIEW: From the haze of the city to the cool mountain tops

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