Drama on Canvas: The Art of Edward Hopper

by Lauren Anderson
Special to iVoryTowerz

One day Paris Hilton is getting arrested, the next Britney Spears appears to be doing drugs. Images of rail thin celebrities and reports of infidelity are splattered across television and computer screens. Reality television is the furthest thing from being real and TV dramas are even further from the truth. It’s overwhelming and intoxicating, and, as an American whole, it is exactly what we want. Drama runs rampant.

But, for those of us who don’t have a subscription to Us Weekly and occasionally miss an episode of Flavor of Love, it can be a little frightening. While there may not be anything wrong with the occasional overdose of senseless drama, one has to wonder if Americans are still capable of appreciating the simple things in life.

Thankfully, we do. In the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., human drama resides in an entirely different form. Until January 21, 2008, a collection of close to one hundred of Edward Hopper’s works of art is being exhibited for the enjoyment of the masses. Divided into sections by subject, the exhibit takes each viewer on a journey through Hopper’s fascinating career, each piece telling the story of a person, place, or even a cultural concept. Hopper’s ability to illustrate the simplest of life’s pleasures, or displeasures, in such a way that captivates the viewer is something to behold.

In one of his better known paintings, New York Movie, Hopper employed his legendary use of shadow to draw the viewer’s attention to a distressed woman standing to the side of a theatre. The delicacy of her features juxtaposed with the harsh darkness of the room pulls the viewer into her mysterious world. Why is she standing there? Why does she look worried? Is she going somewhere or has she just arrived? The stairs behind the curtain to her right imply that she could be going either way, adding to the sense of conflict in the scene. The solution is left undefined and up for interpretation.

From the expressions on the faces of the characters in Nighthawks to the dark shadow cast by the hat worn by the girl in Automat, Hopper proved again and again that he truly mastered the art of subtlety. He was able to create characters of depth and interest without the use of over-the-top colors or distracting images. Even his landscapes, which often depict lush, coastal scenes of New England, draw the viewer in for closer inspection. They tell the story of the setting, asking the viewer to wonder who might live in that dark, shadowy house on Lighthouse Hill or the bright, sunny farmhouse known as Burly Cobb’s House.

The only downfall of this remarkable exhibit is the hundreds of other people looking to share in the experience. Navigating through the crowds can pose a challenge, especially considering the time it takes to truly absorb all there is to see in an Edward Hopper print or painting. Still, it is undeniably worth the effort. Go just to relish in being stimulated without being over-stimulated and enlightened without being exhausted.

After its time is finished at the National Gallery of Art in D.C., the Hopper exhibit will travel on to the Art Institute of Chicago in February.

(Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942; from the Art Institute of Chicago. To see a montage of Hopper's work, please check below.)

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