Edward Hopper

painter and etcher
Born: Nyack, New York

“I believe that the great painters, with their intellect as master, have attempted to force the unwilling medium of paint and canvas into a record of their emotions. I find any digression from this large aim leads me to boredom.”

 Edward Hopper

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An American painter best remembered for his eerily realistic depictions of solitude in contemporary American life.

Born in Nyack, New York, Hopper studied commercial art and painting in New York City. One of his teachers, artist Robert Henri, encouraged his students to use their art to “make a stir in the world”. Henri, an influence on Hopper, motivated students to render realistic depictions of urban life. Henri’s students, many of whom developed into important artists, became known as the Ashcan School of American art.

Upon completing his formal education, Hopper made three trips to Europe to study the emerging art scene there, but unlike many of his contemporaries who imitated the abstract cubist experiments, the idealism of the realist painters resonated with Hopper. His early projects reflect the realist influence.

While he worked for several years as a commercial artist, Hopper continued painting. In 1925 he produced ‘House by the Railroad’, a classic work that marks his artistic maturity. The piece is the first of a series of stark urban and rural scenes that uses sharp lines and large shapes, played upon by unusual lighting to capture the lonely mood of his subjects. He derived his subject matter from the common features of American life – gas stations, motels, the railroad, or an empty street.

Hopper continued to paint in his old age, dividing his time between New York City and Truro, Massachusetts. He died in 1967, in his studio near Washington Square in New York City. His wife, painter Josephine Nivison, who died 10 months later, bequeathed his work to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Other significant paintings by Hopper are at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Des Moines Art Center, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Hopper’s influence on the art world and pop culture is undeniable. Homages to ‘Nighthawks’ featuring cartoon characters or famous pop culture icons such as James Dean and Marilyn Monroe are often found in poster stores and gift shops. Most of his paintings also consist of his wife as the model for his female figures. The cable television channel Turner Classic Movies sometimes runs a series of animated clips based on Hopper paintings before they air their films.

Hopper’s cinematic wide compositions and dramatic use of lights and darks has also made him a favorite amongst filmmakers. For example, House by the Railroad is said to have heavily influenced the iconic house in the Alfred Hitchcock film ‘Psycho’. The same painting has also been cited as being an influence on the home in the Terrence Malick film ‘Days of Heaven’.

In 2004, British guitarist John Squire (formerly of The Stone Roses fame) released a concept album based on Hopper’s work entitled ‘Marshall’s House’, each song on the album inspired by, and sharing its title with, a painting by Hopper.

Hopper’s influence even reached the Japanese animation world in the dark cyberpunk thriller ‘Texhnolyze’. Hopper’s artwork was used as the basis for the surface world in ‘Texhnolyze’.