Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Edward Hopper, New York Movie, 1939.

My second favorite encounter with art in New York, also at The Whitney. There were several Hoppers on display, but this one held me the longest. It's always been a favourite, and I've probably seen 40 different reproductions of it over the years, none of which communicated the sense of light and space contained in the original. Seeing it in person made me suddenly remember why painting exists, and why photography's recent attempts to emulate it's scale and physical presence will remain just that, attempts.
About twenty or thirty charcoal and graphite studies for the finished piece were also in the room, providing some insight into Hopper's process. It was humbling to see the time, the thought, the worrying that had gone into this one painting. Lots of dead ends, abandoned ideas and "almosts," discarded on the long road to a single image. Tons of compositional options, the stairway moved here, there, up, down, flipped over to the other side, you name it. Then finally a suite of 6 or 7 exploratory studies of the girl herself, deciding on the pose, nailing down the light, closing in. This painting was thoroughly, and decidedly conceived.
I wonder sometimes, how many people realize the gauntlet that good works of art have travelled to reach them.

On a side note: Todd Haynes, who made one of my favorite films of all time, reproduced New York Movie in his 2002 film Far From Heaven.
He talks about the painting, and Hopper in general, here.