Gnomicon 192

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  192
Tuesday 20 November 2012
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Maybe I am not very human –
what I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.
Edward Hopper (22 Jul 1882 – 15 May 1967)

Today I leave behind the dreary repetitiveness of late:  a fragmenting Middle East, American fiscal cliffs, and Europe in the act of vigorously imploding – and escape into a different, in its way more illuminating world that we all too often ignore.  For so obsessed are we (i.e., I) with the impossibility of trying to get some kind of handle on the ever fluctuating instabilities of “out there” where the ‘real’ world is.

Thus, let me go more ‘interior’ today.

The above statement by this artist, one of the (in my mind) truly great American painters, gives me a good jumping-off point.  But first, have a look at some things I wrote earlier on about Hopper – as artists go, he is clearly a great favorite of mine – here and here.

Actually, I’d say he’s “very human” for wanting to paint – to ‘make his very own’ – something so complexly simple as “sunlight on the side of a house.”  Heaven knows he tried it enough (e.g., in The Mansard Roof [1923], House by the Railroad [1925], The Lighthouse at Two Lights [1929], and on and on), and he probably felt that he had not truly got to the bottom of its essence in the last painting and so was driven to try one more time, just one more time.  How do you paint ‘sunlight’?  Well, for what it’s worth (but I am of course no art historian) I think Hopper came as close as anyone else I can think of to capturing something of that shimmering reality.

If one compares the sun-drenched buildings that lived in his mind one cannot help but compare them to the paintings in which a solitary figure is likewise presented to us as sun-drenched creature (e.g., The Barber Shop [1931], Excursion Into Philosophy [1959], A woman in the Sun [1961], and so on and on).  In other words, it wasn’t so much just sunlight ‘on the side of a house’ but sunlight as it illuminates animate as well as inanimate reality.  And then there is sunlight laving both house and human (as in Cape Cod Evening [1939]).

Is this sunlight as disinfectant?  as external illumination wanting to penetrate into some kind of human interiority?  Even in the ‘dark’ pictures – interiors, night time –where of course there is no sunlight, the artificial light and its modulating clarifications of human character dominate:  think  Automat [1927], Night Windows [1928], New York Movie [1939] — not to mention that justly famous and iconic Nighthawks [1942].  It’s as though (as is really the case for all artists, even somber painters like Hopper’s older contemporary John Marin [23 Dec 1870 – 2 Oct 1953]) the underlying, foundational theme is ‘light’.

Yes, ‘light’ is as basic to the painting of darkness as it is to that of sunlight, and the longer I ‘live’ with the art of Edward Hopper, the more salient this feature of his art becomes.  It is in the end all about light, light in all its many-faceted shape-shifting multi-forms.

As St. Jerome (c. 347 – 420 CE) had it in his translation of the opening of Genesis from Hebrew into Latin:  fiat lux!

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