In March I had the pleasure of going to New York for a long weekend with my Dad. I had never been (I know) but really wanted to make the trip because there was a good Hopper exhibit at The Whitney. I’ve read about The Whitney for years and the fact that they had so many Hoppers there was too much of a draw. Thankfully for me Dad funded the trip and we were off.
I had been looking closely at Hopper’s paintings and could not understand why it looked like the canvas was almost bare in spots. It looked kind of scrapped on and in a book it was hard to tell what it really looked like. When we got to the museum the crowds were pretty light and I was able to take my time and really look at each canvas for a long time. After looking carefully at each one it seemed like he painted it on really thin with a color that was darker than the local color. He then went on top of that with the actual color but all this funk was left showing through.
People think his paintings are super tight and from a distance they look that way but when you get up on them they’re crazy. There are almost no straight lines and parts of them are almost abstract expressionist.
This was sort of mind bending for me. My technique up to this point had been to add paint, layer by layer, to shape the final product. This worked alright on the fruit paintings but I could never, ever get happy with my landscapes and especially the urban landscapes.
Also, once I got back I looked through all my books again and really noticed his painting New York Pavements. I could see that he painted every bit of the black on first and then just scrapped the gray of the building on later. No building of layers, no indecision, no struggling with it. He just blocked it out and then barely filled it in. I finally understood how pre-meditated it all was.
Which brings us to No. 114. I had recently sold No. 106 and was happy with it overall but something still felt off. I had a 10″ x 8″ board sitting there and thought – what the heck, I’ll just try it again. I blocked in the darkest darks and then painted the rest of it with a dark version of whatever the local color was. It looked absolutely awful but I knew what I was doing and let it dry. It was pre-meditated and ugly.
So then I carefully went back in and laid the “real” color over that underpainting. Again, I knew exactly what I wanted to put where and just did it. With all my other paintings I was doing a lot of “thinking” on the canvas and this is a whole other way of working.
I was happy with the result and feel better about this one vs. 106. I like them both but this is how I wanted to express myself and it felt so good to finally be able to speak what I was hearing (visually).
Phew. Needless to say this has altered my whole approach so the next batch starts to build off this revelation and hopefully take it to another level.
Regardless of the circumstances, I had to keep moving and making progress. My friend Tillman always says “action creates action” and it is true in every area of life. If I don’t feel like painting the one thing I need to do is paint. The action creates more action.
So, No. 88 is one of those. It’s signed but not really finished. I was driving out to get some more Christmas lights and went behind a CVS by our house. It was very eerie in an Edward Hopper type of way. Black, cold and seemingly uninhabited. I think if I was in more of a groove I could have made this really sing but it’s just alright. With something this simple you have to get it pretty much right otherwise it does not connect.
This is the second of the little Pennsylvania Coal Town studies. Instead of doing it at actual size I just cropped out a little piece of the paining and tried to experiment with that as a stand-alone image.
I started this one as another sepia-type but then branched out a bit and added the red to the bottom. It felt good to get back into the color (even limited) and helped get me back on the bus for this next group.
Here is an image of the real painting if you don’t know what I’m talking about:
I don’t know exactly why but I have always been struck by this painting. It’s everything that Hopper stood for in one warm but at the same time terrifying image. What can you say about that light? First off, it’s sideways – coming right at the figure. It’s also incredibly hot. As obsessed with light as Hopper was I can’t think of another painting of his that used the time of day to create drama like this one does.
I’ve always seen this as a sunset. The color of the light and the fact that the guy is raking seem to say that. What takes it to another level is how Hopper described light. He used it as a metaphor for life. Light for Hopper was life. If you were in the light and could see the light you were still alive.
So look at this knowing that and what do you see? I see a guy whose time is running out. In about 15 minutes the light it going to be gone. And it’s like the figure is minding his own business and then something triggers in him a sense of his own mortality. He’s watching it go away. You’re raking your yard one minute and the next it’s time to go. It can be depressing but if you look at the image it does not seem all that bad. The light is most beautiful when it’s about to go out I guess.
Not to get all deep with it but I really, really like that painting. I can’t wait to get more into my copy of it and will post the final result when it’s done. It’s sort of lame to copy something but I learn SO much when I look that close at something.
I’ve got a slew of new ones that I’ll be posting starting this weekend. Back into the fruit, landscapes and other fun stuff.
This is the first of two little studies of the painting Pennsylvania Coal Town by Edward Hopper. The little paintings this year have been great but I was jonesing for a really big one and decided to but a 40″ x 30″ big boy and do a copy of that painting.
This particular painting is a life-sized sample of the top left corner of the Hopper. It’s almost abstract when you take it out of context but I was trying to get a feel for the size and feel the real one would have.
Here is a shot of the large canvas with a really rough underpainting blocked out. It’s pretty mammoth compared to the other 6″ x 6″ on the easel. That’s a sneak preview of No. 50.
So, a little different for this post but I wanted to mix it up a little bit before moving onto normal subjects.