Art: The Silent Witness

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Withdrawal & Return. History is full of men who withdrew to the desert to learn their true mission. Hopper did the same thing unconsciously and by necessity: he took up commercial art. The advertising and publishing houses that bought his drawings of storybook characters "posturing and grimacing" were desert sands to him: ''Sometimes I'd walk around the block a couple of times before I'd go in, wanting the job for money and at the same time hoping to hell I wouldn't get the lousy thing."

Hopper yearned simply to "paint sunlight on the side of a house." But his oils lacked the gusto then in fashion. They showed an almost obsessive fear of the flourish. Xo one wanted them. For a whole decade he practically ceased 'painting them. His empty easel was wasteland, and within himself lay wilderness. His friends heard nothing from him; apparently he had gone under.

By the very fact of being so cut off from his mission, Edward Hopper was able to bring it into being. Protected from the slow ravages of compromise—either with public taste or with his own immaturity—he developed his style invisibly along with his character. At last he produced some etchings that had a wholly new quality, the quality of himself. There followed a hesitant shower of equally exciting watercolors. and finally more oils. In 1924 he had his first one-man show of new work, which sold out. He married a painter named Josephine Nivison (who had also studied with Henri), shook the dust of commercial illustrations from his heels and began, at 43, the career he was born for.

"Peekaboo!" "Recognition doesn't mean so much," says Hopper. "You never get it when you need it." But unlike some flashier reputations, Hopper's held once he got it. He has been top-rated in American art for three decades now. has been heaped, rightly, with honors and awards. The awards have not impressed him. He seems more concerned over the fact that some critics seldom mention him ("It's as if they were embarrassed, or something"). His only comment on the Whitney Museum's great retrospective of his work, staged in 1950, was that the gallery always seemed crowded with pregnant women. Says he. with the faintest, iciest glimmer of a twinkle: "I guess they considered me a safe man to deal with."

In 1953 Rutgers gave him an honorary degree, which pleased him mainly because General Alfred M. Gruenther received one at the same time. Offered a gold medal by the National Institute of Arts and

Letters last year, Hopper fled to Mexico. He came back and accepted it only after being assured that he would not have to say anything except "Thanks."

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