The two paintings of Edward Hopper, shown here, are part of the current exhibition in the Whitney Museum of American Art: Edward Hopper and His Time. Much has been written about Hopper’s usage of light and shadow. I will point out his usage of incongruencies that further accentuates the sense of isolation and alienation that Hopper’s painting are known for.
South Carolina morning (1955; oil on canvas, 30-9/16″ x 40-1/4): A woman stands in the entrance of a building, staring in the direction of the viewer. Her lower body pushes forward while her upper body leans backwards. The voluptuous female form in a bright red dress stands in a marked contrast to the severe pale lines (I don’t remember the color of the house to be as dark brown as shown on this photo downloaded from the web) of the house and its concrete platform against an uninterrupted expanse of grassland. Repeating the V-shaped line of her cleavage between her neck and clavicles accentuates the woman’s vivid physicality. The incongruency of female physicality and arid landscape makes me gasp.
Seven AM (1948; oil on canvas, 30-3/16? x 40-1/8?): This picture shows part of a country store and path, both colored with a kaleidoscope of lovely light pastel hues – green, yellow, blue, purple, pink, lavender and turquoise. Inside the store are a wooden clock and chest, painted in rich brown hues. The straight lines of the country store stand in marked contrast to the crookedness of the tree trunks next to it. These crooked stems are painted in weak grey-brown contrasting with the rich wood colors inside the store. The foliage is a mostly dull green accentuating the luminous pastels of the country store. Together with the difference in the illumination of human habitat and woods, the incongruency of their shapes generates the mood of the picture.
Going into the exhibition, I had been much enamored of Hopper’s paintings. I had always felt, as said somewhere on the web, that Hopper’s ‘ evocative canvases confront the viewer with images of isolation and alienation…’. But after studying his paintings for a few hours today, my sense of isolation mutated into a sense of frustration that this gifted artist would play on my emotions using a formula consisting of light/dark effects and incongruencies. Given a choice between a Hopper and a Morandi, I would choose the latter.