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exhibition on screen : hopper : an american love story

Presented by Exhibition on Screen, celebrating its tenth anniversary and directed by Phil Grabsky, the latest film in their terrific series is released to coincide with the opening of the Hopper exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York. 

EDWARD HOPPER’s (1882- 1967) work is now regarded as one of the most iconic art in America – beloved, challenging, aloof and enigmatic, making the viewer ask questions. Hopper depicted both his own life and American life in his work, blending past and present, with the narrative in his later oeuvre reduced to an intense, compelling vacuum. Are his landscapes silent, devoid of human presence? Some consider his work as a depiction of intense loneliness. Or is it?

Mixing photographs and archival footage of interviews with both Hopper and his wife Josephine, discussions with curators and other experts, voiceovers and Josephine’s paintings, drawings and diaries, we follow Hopper’s life, explore his numerous works, and learn about his personality and work processes.  Also included is footage of New York and Cape Cod from Hopper’s time, and now. He loved sailing, trains and movies and was constantly engrossed by the study of light.

We follow his life, learning how his mother encouraged him to draw and his father inspired his love of reading. After finishing high school (where he was bullied because of his height , and was the main artist on the school newspaper) Hopper moved to New York, studying under William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri. He then began work as an illustrator, but his heart wasn’t really in it.

In 1906 Hopper travelled to Paris, which he loved. While Montmartre was not his scene, he did paint ‘plein air’, capturing the street life. When he returned to New York Hopper rented a studio in a rather dingy building and attempted to discover his own particular painting style.

Viewers see his Summer Interior and Soir Bleu which are discussed and analysed. He is quite aware of the various growing arts styles in Europe but is heavily criticised for trying to show their influences.

Hopper first visited Gloucester, with its large arty community, in 1912 and that is where he met Josephine, his future wife, again in 1923 . The film examines his somewhat tempestuous marriage to Josephine (Josephine Nivison Hopper) who was an artist in her own right but sacrificed her career to further his. They were opposite personalities – Josephine was a vivacious, garrulous chatterbox, vibrant and social, whereas Edward was far more a terse, solitary recluse.

 She became his agent, managing the accounts and acting as a buffer between him and the world. We are shown some of her drawings and paintings and her life and work are currently being re-evaluated. Jo kept a record of all his works, prices, dimensions and included terrific descriptions of the paintings. At one point they apparently painted side by side, Jo encouraging him to be freer in his work and to use watercolours and more colour in his work. We see Hopper’s fascination with diagonals, shadows, patterns and shapes for example in Haskell’s House, The Mansard Roof and Anderson’s House.

Jo was the only model Hopper used, she was his muse, but he transposed faces from other women. Hopper also loved movies – particularly film noir and early Hitchcock – did he influence Hitchcock? In his paintings Hopper did not really depict major world events such as The Great Depression or World War 11 or the vibrant social, cultural and political life of the 1960’s with the demonstrations and Vietnam War. 

From 1927 we see Hopper’s attraction to lighthouses and how he produced a whole series – eg Lighthouse and Buildings, Portland Head , Cape Elizabeth , Maine , Light at Two Lights etc

From 1934 the Hoppers moved to Cape Cod and he was prolific in his work. The house also became his studio. At times the couple went on long road trips (for example in 1940 they went to Mexico).

Other major works by Hopper include Night Hawks, Chop Suey, Summer Interior, Hotel Lobby and Automat.

In his later years Hopper became reclusive and painted in his studio using sketches completed previously. He was always a slow, methodical painter but found it harder and harder to capture what he saw in his mind’s eye.

1965 saw his last work Two Comedians, of clowns onstage, in some ways a tribute to Jo. 

A most fascinating biography of this major American artist.

Running time 95 minutes





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