Art: The Silent Witness

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Everything in Hopper's existence is geared to painting, but he finds the task terribly hard. He can seldom face canvas. He always hopes that his frequent trips will result in new works, but has learned, to his pain, that they need not. Once he spent a whole summer in New Mexico, roaming that most scenic of states, and found material for just one watercolor: a locomotive. He once tried to paint the fine view over Washington Square from his Manhattan studio-home. "It must have been 15 or 20 years ago," he says. "I didn't finish it. Maybe I will some day."

Although his work has made him moderately prosperous in recent years (his oils bring about $6,000 each), Hopper and his wife live an astonishingly frugal life. Their Washington Square apartment is a fourth-floor walkup, 74 tiring steps above the street. It is heated by a potbellied stove, with coal hauled up in a dumbwaiter.

The place consists chiefly of two studios, his and hers. Josephine Hopper's studio is cheery and crowded with pictures; his is bright, bare, orderly and dominated by a loft. high easel. Hopper built the easel himself, shortly after moving into the studio 43 long years ago. Perhaps twice a year he puts a canvas on it and paints steadily, averaging a month to finish a picture. The rest of the time it stands empty, while he broodingly tries to visualize his next work.

In summer the Hoppers occupy a little house alone on a high dune near Truro, Cape Cod. Hopper designed it himself, and it looks like a Hopper. The house makes no concessions to Cape Cod cuteness; it has no green shutters, no weathered shingles, only plain white clapboard, a solid, square-cut frame and a huge, clear picture window. Leading to it from the road is an almost impassably rutted track, a quarter of a mile long. Their neighbors debate whether the Hoppers have left their drive unpaved through unsociability or frugality.

"The Friendly Bean." The Hoppers go miles out of their way to get gas a fraction of a cent cheaper; they have never bought a new car. They eat out a great deal—at lunch counters. Yet they are open-handed with friends needing help, and on occasion they do spend folding money for themselves; e.g., Mrs. Hopper insists on her husband's wearing elegant sports clothes from Abercrombie & Fitch, though he complains that he doesn't "want to look like a damned hero." And when they bought their 1954 Buick, Hopper had the perfectly good green-tinted glass windshield and windows replaced with clear glass, at a cost of $160. The cost did not matter where his eyewitnessing was concerned; he wanted to look out at an untinted America.

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