Hopper: drudgery and dysthymia

Edward Hopper is being celebrated with an exhibition dedicated to his life and works in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, amassing an impressive 73 out of his 366 canvases. He would have hated this. Bitter as he was about the late recognition of his art, he avoided his own exhibitions, using them as a platform to get his paintings sold, in order to carry on living his simple and reclusive lifestyle.

Hopper has to be the least fitting name for an artist as misanthropic as he. He was an introvert with a wry sense of humour, who would fall into great periods of melancholy, pierced on occasion by flashes of brilliant inspiration. But great art comes from great depression. Take the obvious example, Van Gogh, whose struggle with manic depression led him to paint some of the most celebrated art in history. Other, lesser known depressives included William Blake, Gauguin, Pollock, Miró, and even Michelangelo. I’m not saying you have to be depressed to be an artist, but it helps. The irony is that Hopper was one of the few artists whose careers actually flourished during the Great Depression.

Edward Hopper, Eleven A.M., 1926.
Oil on canvas, 71.3 x 91.6 cm.
Smithsonian Institution, Hirshhorn
Museum and Sculpture Garden,
Washington, D.C.

It takes a pessimist to be able view life through a realist lens. Hopper’s work strikes a chord with people not because it gives them a cheery nod to the future, but because it reflects the banality, solitude, loneliness and boredom of moments in our own lives, and says to us: “Hey, you know what? It’s ok if you want to sit in your knickers and stare out of the window all day − people did it in the 1920s too!” For many of us, it reflects the poignancy of relationships, and the bitterness of a break-up. If there is a couple, the intimacy has gone, and each is resigned to the fate of either an imminent split or a life of regrets, each wallowing in their own well of ‘what ifs’.

Edward Hopper, Summer in the City, 1949.
Oil on canvas, 50.8 x 76.2 cm.
Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York.

Think you can create world-class art with a canvas, some paints, and optimism alone? Then think again, preferably in your underwear, staring into space.

You can still see Hopper’s works at the Hopper exhibition, at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, until 16 September 2012. Get to know the artist, and what made him tick, with this detailed art book about Hopper’s life and times.

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