Art: The Silent Witness

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In the painful weeks between painting, Hopper's self-enforced, involuntary leisure consists largely of reading, movies (he liked Marty), wandering the streets on foot, alone and lonely as a cloud, or touring the highways with his wife. Their entertaining is confined largely to an occasional tea with baba au rhum. But one recent visitor was asked to lunch, and given hamburgers cooked over the flames of the coal stove. "I suppose I should have used the gas range," Mrs. Hopper chirped, "but it just makes a lot of grease for Eddie to clean up." For a cookbook giving the favorite recipes of artists, she wrote that "one might say we like to have cans of the friendly bean on the shelf."

Hopper claims that he does most of the cooking himself. "I'm the typical American husband," he adds, and the rare pronouncement, intended to amuse, echoes like a thunderbolt from the enveloping fog bank of his silence. Actually, Hopper fires off a fair share of personal observations, only he spaces them days and weeks apart. Examples: "American women are pretty flat-chested, on the whole.'' "The Pacific Ocean is sort of misty, greyish." "Armenians have no backs to their heads." "I don't see why people are crazy to import French paintings when there are so many French paintings being made in America." "I like Emerson to read, I guess."

New World. One remark of Emerson's applies very well to Hopper's own paintings: "In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty." Hopper is clearly a genius of this kind; he paints not only what Amer icans have seen from the corners of their eyes, but also what they have dimly thought and felt about it.

"I look all the time," Hopper explains, "for something that suggests something to me. I think about it. Just to paint a representation or a design is not hard, but to express a thought in painting is. Thought is fluid. What you put on canvas is concrete, and it tends to direct the thought. The more you put on canvas, the more you lose control of the thought. I've never' been able to paint what I set out to paint."

What Hopper has been able to do, he would never admit. He has opened a whole new chapter in American realism, painting a new world never before pictured. Where Copley created a world of men, Cole a world of nature, and Homer a world of struggle between the two. Hopper paints the raw, uneasy world that Americans have built on this land.

Slow Local. However dreary his subject matter, Hopper invariably bathes it in pure, liquid-seeming light. He is as reticent in applying paint to canvas as the abstract expressionists are bold, giving his pictures a single overall surface, as if they were seen through a picture window. By suppressing all details that would not be noticed in a passing glance, and arranging his compositions to suggest that the scene extends far beyond the frame, he puts his picture window in motion. Seeing a Hopper exhibition is like floating through people's backyards on a slow local, in a state of awed awareness.

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