Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Commonplace Made Strange:
Edward Hopper at the National Gallery

The Nighthawks contains everything you need to know about Edward Hopper and this very comprehensive exhibition is the only Hopper show you'll need to see.
(Image: Art Institute of Chicago)

Edward Hopper was a reluctant icon, retiring, etc. Don’t mistake his shyness for lack of ambition. He had one eye turned toward posterity at all times, but he was modest and hard-working, an artist who regular Americans could relate to. He was a consummate artists’ painter: "I can’t think of any artist who doesn’t like his work," comments Eric Fischl in the excellent documentary that accompanies this triumphant—but never triumphalist—exhibition. His work was rigorously composed, his colors painstaking developed through complimentary layering and juxtaposition, very sound from a technical perspective.

His work speaks of the unspoken, the unmentioned awkward silences that sometimes between descend between people. No one is looking at each other and their silences are as deep as the waters off the Maine coast. His couples are are always in distress and I wonder about his marriage. Isolation, alienation, estrangement are Great Themes of the 20th Century and he really nailed them. I will observe, however, that when you spend time with the work, it becomes apparent that much of the work is about solitude, as opposed to alienation. And in an urban setting, solitude is desirable.

Speaking of urbanism, he was a great champion of the urban landscape. No one could paint a brick wall like Hopper. In fact, his brick walls had more dynamism and depth than his skies or ocean deeps. He was uninterested in the natural world to the point of total dismissal. Those fact that was particularly striking after having just seen the Turner retrospective next door. He was all about light on walls, marquees, translucent window treatments, and—especially the windows themselves, often darkened, like the scary hollow eyes of so many of the people who dwell in his world.

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