Book Review: Edward Hopper Portraits of America @Prestel_UK0April 8th, 2012Literacy
Prestel Books are renowned for their quality and detailed art books and this one doesn’t disappoint.
Edward Hooper is the notorious realist painter that painted Nighthwawk (1942) the famous scene depicting big city loneliness in a diner.
Straight away, Wieland Schmied starts with provocative and thought provoking questions:
‘Is he a true Regionalist? Is his art great on account of its local color, or despite it? Or is his work not regionalist at all, and those who seek its origins in the American Scene are mistaken?’
He then goes on to give a brief overview of Edward Hooper’s artistic history with insightful quotes from Hooper:
‘The thing that makes me so mad is the ‘American Scene’ business. I never tried to do the American scene as Benton and Curry and the Midwestern painters did. I think the American Scene painters caricatured America. I always wanted to do myself. The French painters didn’t talk about ‘French scene’ or the English painters about the ‘English Scene’ … the American quality is in a painter – he doesn’t have to strive for it.”
Its clear Hooper plays an important roll in the timestamp of American painting, regardless of the categorical title used.
The book is a cornucopia of information related to Hooper that is written in an academic form. While there is a lot of referencing, it doesn’t interfere with the flow of reading.
There are 11 chapters, each related to one of Hooper’s paintings and each providing information not just on the paintings themselves, but where the artists was personally in his life and how those external factors influenced his life.
Early Sunday Morning – Hooper originally wanted to name it after the street it represented (a stage set from Elmer’s Rice, Street Scene) but viewers prefer this name. This chapter started a biography of Hooper (p16) which was a bit out of sync but as you kept reading, it made more sense. This is also where you’re introduced to Robert Henni and see what an influence he was to Hooper.
Manhattan Bridge Loop – In this chapter, we learn Hooper’s ‘style was crucially shaped by the Paris experience’ although it lacked sharpness associated with the 1920s.
Gas – one of the more pictorial chapters, we get to see how the landscapes and paintery learnt in Paris have weaved their way into Hooper’s style regardless of the subject.
New York Movie – this short chapter talks about ‘transcendental objectivity’ – defined by Max Beckmann ‘a state of upheaval caused by experiences in WWI’. Beckmann went on to say the aim of his work as ‘achieving an objectivity of inner visions.’ Reflecting back over Hooper’s timeline, it is safe to say ‘transcendental objectivity’ applies directly to Hooper’s work (and in some aspects, his personal life).
Office at Night – we start to get an understanding that while Hooper was brilliant with certain subjects or ‘objectivities’, there were a few he avoided (such as freeways, factories, machinery and industrial plants). Although he did touch lightly upon the subject matters, it was only briefly. Interesting, this is also where the reference to the fact that all the people are white middle class. No other ethnic group or different classes are represented.
Nighthawks - For me, this quote sets the tone for this chapter: ‘It was suggested by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet. I simplified the scene a great deal and made the restaurant bigger. Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city’ (quoted in Robert Hobbs, Edward Hooper, New York, 1987, p. 129). Again, we’re left asking questions and wanting more information. Hooper is a subjective story teller. They are his stories and as much as we want to read in to them, only he knows the truth.
Hotel Lobby – this chapter related to the perceptive in which Hooper drew. While I’m not an artist, I appreciated the value this information would be art historians or students.
Seven A.M. – Edward’s wife Jo Hooper was also left wondering the same questions that we still have today. In notes that supplemented her husband’s journal, we learn that Jo wrote questions such as ‘What is, or was, sold here? What is Hopper telling us?’ This humanist chapter proves we are not the only ones who were left wondering. However, this directly connections to Nighthawks chapter.
Sunlight in a Cafeteria, Second Story Sunlight, and New York Office are short but powerful chapters that again make you think not just what you see on the canvas, but what Hooper is trying to tell us. The direction of light, the placement of items – everything is there for a reason … but why?
There is also a detailed biography and list of illustrations.
With the exception of a few minor typos, the book is exceptional resource for any fan or student of Hooper or indeed Realism.
[book:Edward Hopper: Portraits of America|11809537][author:Wieland Schmied|72777]