Hunting Nighthawks, Edward Hopper and America

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, Chicago Art Institute
Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, Chicago Art Institute

“Whom did I meet? Nobody,” Edward Hopper said speaking of his time in Paris. “I’d heard of Gertrude Stein, but I don’t remember having heard of Picasso at all. I used to go to the cafés at night and sit and watch. I went to the theatre a little. Paris had no great or immediate impact on me.”

Hopper was quintessentially American. While he was made his home in Greenwich Village, he is not fully an urban painter when compared to say John Sloan. While Hopper’s paintings can depict the loneliness and isolation of the city, the mood is conveyed equally in his works in rural settings. John Sloan conveys urbanity and its ills. Hopper conveys personal isolation. While that condition was primarily associated with a big city in Hoppers time, today we may know it best as a condition of the suburbs.

Hopper lived and worked in New York, but for a New Yorker has an unusual ability to connect with Middle America. Of course this is because Hopper ventured out of New York for subject matter, but brought the New York sentiments with him. Consider A Pennsylvania Coal Town, 1947 or Cape Cod Afternoon, 1936.

Hopper has remained particularly relevant since his death in 1967. His paintings define the breadth of America as much as any painter I can think of. They convey both modernity and nostalgia and, because they relate a particular mood, remain timeless.

Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco is just wrapping up an exhibition on Hopper, based on his influence on the medium of photography. Chicago writer Kevin Grandfield is currently on a journey to visit museums across the U.S. where Hopper’s work is held and find out whether Americans are as isolated as portrayed by Hopper. Visit Grandfield’s blog, Hunting Nighthawks.

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage. When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city. With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s. The result will be a book with a video component. We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url artafterx.com will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

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