Edward HopperReclining Nude (1927)

Just because I can easily spot a Hopper from across a crowded gallery doesn’t necessarily mean I ‘know’ him or his work all that well.

Everyone knows Nighthawks; most folks know Automat and Summer Evenings. However, his style is so singular that’s all you need as a framework for sussing out the rest. A Hopper is a Hopper is Hopper.

I am extremely conflicted about his work. When I was first introduced to his work in my mid-to-late teens, I detested it. (But I was a surly teenager and was angstily wrong about more things that I was right.)

To this day, I still can’t honestly say I like his work. And if you’re thinking that given my background in filmmaking, this fact is a bit odd, you’ll hardly be the first person to think so and point it out to me.

There is something inherently cinematic about most of Hopper’s work. And what’s especially challenging is that it’s difficult to point to any one thing. Yes, he typically employs longer frames. Yes, there’s a way in which detail increases immediately surrounding the characters and diminishes in the foreground and background. For example: Nighthawks could be a Hollywood set or an approximation of narrow depth as a cinematographic means of emphasizing the area that is supposed to draw the viewer’s attention. (And in researching this post, I discovered Girl at a Sewing Machine, which I think is a great riff on the Dutch Baroque–specifically Vermeer’s Milkmaid and Woman Holding a Balance.

Additionally, the narrative suggestion of most of his renowned work should also draw me in. It doesn’t though…

I think this is due to two different factors. First, I’m not super into the French painters who influenced Hopper. (Some of Degas’ stuff is okay and Hopper unquestionably owes him a huge debt.) Second, I always feel like there’s a fine line between iconic and pop art–no, that’s not entirely accurate; I think Hopper’s iconic is always a little too pop art-y for my taste.

Another thing I don’t especially like that I suppose I picked up on by osmosis is his problematic relationship with his wife Josephine Nivison–the subject in the above image.

There’s an article in The Guardian from more than a decade ago present in anticipation of a Hopper retrospective at The Tate. It goes to great pains to paint the couples relationship as stormily complicated but sidesteps matters of sexism and misogyny. (Especially absurd given that the article presents Josephine as Hopper’s ‘muse’–a concept which is inherently mired in the consumption of women by entitled white cis-het men.)

But the reason I posted this was because a dear friend is currently convalescing with me. She had a health emergency overseas and I flew her back to the US and she’s been staying with me in an effort to get healthy. (It’s been a bit trying–mostly due to the fact my roommates initially agreed to her staying with us and have subsequently changed their tune to giving me 30 days notice to find a new space and move out… but that’s an entirely different story.)

This image resonated with me because it’s how my friend lays when she’s in the throes of a particular bad episode of pain. (it’s certainly inspired the way he uses the tones from the mustard and saffron throw pillows to accentuate her right heel, ankle, flank and back of her neck.. it doesn’t manage to come even close to offsetting her cadaverous pallor.)

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