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The Whitney Uncovers Edward Hopper’s Drawings

Edward Hopper was one of the most celebrated American Realist painters in the 20th century. His vast portfolio mostly depicted American life, which made him popular in the States. When he passed away in the spring of 1967, his wife entrusted the Whitney Museum of American Art with his collection of 3,000 works. In 2013, the Whitney crafted the “Hopper Drawing” exhibition, the first major exhibition to reveal both Hopper’s drawings and working process. A few Sundays back, I trekked to the Whitney to learn all there was to know about Mr. Hopper.

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As I scanned the hundreds of drawings crafted by the late painter, I realized that Hopper experimented with several types of media. He created his paintings with charcoal, watercolor, fabricated chalk, brush and ink, graphite pencils, and oil pastels with the latter being the most utilized. “Early Sunday Morning” and “Nighthawks,” some of Hopper’s premier pieces, were created from oil pastels. “Early Sunday Morning” (1930) depicted small shops on Seventh Avenue following a sunrise. “Nighthawks,” (1942) portrayed the interactions of people in a New York diner late at night. Both paintings revealed Hopper’s fascination with light and how it contributed to the physicality of his work. The two paintings also hinted at Hopper’s appreciation of New York’s architecture. He lived right across the street from Washington Square Park for over five decades and often used New York’s buildings as subjects for depicting city living.

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A section of the exhibition was dedicated to Hopper’s drawings of individuals gazing out of windows. These drawings consisted of various solitary figures of men and women looking out into the world. Hopper’s motive for these works was to symbolize how people perceive themselves and the world. It all makes sense because when looking out of the window, one is not only viewing the world beyond those walls, but also how he or she fits into that world.

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Even though Hopper was known for his Realist masterpieces, he delved into Impressionism for a short period during a ten-month stay in Paris. While in France, he fully embodied the drawing process of Impressionists. He followed in the footsteps of Van Gogh, Renoir, and Manet by painting in outdoor settings and using nature as a primary subject. One similarity that Hopper shared with the Impressionists was that he attempted to incorporate movement in his works. Some of his Whitney paintings featured movement in nature in the form of bushes swaying against the wind and ocean water currents pushing up against rocks. It takes great skill to depict movement of any kind on a canvas.

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To truly understand the meaning of an artist’s work, one should take into account his or her creation process. The Whitney’s curators made it clear that long periods of observation were central to Hopper’s working process. He felt the need to internalize the visual sensations that he captured in his paintings. In other words, he became one with his subjects in order to give them justice on a canvas. Out of everything I learned from this exhibition, this stuck with me the most. This amazing artist’s majestic collection will be on view until October 6th. It’s truly breathtaking!

 

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