Artist: Edward Hopper

Reluctant to speak about himself or his art, Edward Hopper summed up his work by stating, “The whole answer is there on the canvas.” Awkward and introverted, Hopper was raised in a female dominated, strict Baptist household. He began his art career via correspondence school and later completed six years of study at the New York Institute of Art and Design. He was shocked when he was expected to sketch live nudes in his life drawing classes. While Impressionism and Cubism were the emerging art movements of his day, when Hopper took three trips to Paris he went to the opera and the theatre. He has been quoted as saying about those trips that he “didn’t remember having heard of Picasso at all.” He was impressed by Rembrandt, in particular “Night Watch”, which he said was “the most wonderful thing of his I have seen; it’s past belief in its reality.” Later Hopper expressed that he felt that there really were no European artists who influenced him.

Because his conservative parents insisted that if he was going to study art it needed to have some commercial applicability so that he would be able to support himself, Hopper became an illustrator. Much like N.C. Wyeth, Hopper came to despise doing illustrations over time. His career did not launch quickly. He had great spells of time where he had difficulty finding inspiration or painting. Another illustrator who knew him, Walter Tittle, described Hopper’s depression as that he was “suffering…from long periods of unconquerable inertia, sitting for days at a time before his easel in helpless unhappiness, unable to raise a hand to break the spell.” Hopper sold his first painting in 1913 when he was 31. He hoped that more sales would soon follow, but it took time for more of his work to be sold.

In 1923, Hopper met his soon to be wife, Josephine Nivison. She was also artist, but after meeting him and marrying him a year later she subordinated her career for his. She modled for him and worked to get his paintings into various shows and galleries. She was able to get his work exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum who bought one of his paintings for their permanent collection. After this his paintings began to sell and he fared much better through out the Depression than many other artists.

Many of Hopper’s paintings depict solitary figures. The paintings’ compositions often hinge on very precise use of perspective and the use of value. Early in his life he painted with a dark palette, then when the lighter palette favored by the Impressionists was in fashion he switched. He returned once more to the darker hues that he was more comfortable with later. Hopper who was introverted and preferred not to discuss his art gave his most definitive declaration of his philosophy as an artist in a handwritten note, titled “Statement”, that was submitted in 1953 to the journal, Reality. It read:
“Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world. No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination. One of the weaknesses of much abstract painting is the attempt to substitute the inventions of the human intellect for a private imaginative conception.

The inner life of a human being is a vast and varied realm and does not concern itself alone with stimulating arrangements of color, form and design.

The term life used in art is something not to be held in contempt, for it implies all of existence and the province of art is to react to it and not to shun it.
Painting will have to deal more fully and less obliquely with life and nature’s phenomena before it can again become great.”

Hopper’s dark, realistic paintings are often very stark, almost lonely. Despite various art trends that came and went, once his work achieved its mature style it remained very consistent. The last of his life, he and his wife lived in their apartment and very much kept to themselves. Hopper died in his studio near Washington Square in New York City on May 15, 1967. His wife died 10 months later. She bequeathed their joint collection of over three thousand works to the Whitney Museum of American Art. While Hopper may not have personally reached out to many people, his work was very influential.

A Tribute to Maurice Sendak

Today a brilliant man who understood that childhood is not all sunshine and rainbows passed from the world. Maurice Sendak knew children and the realm of childhood, respected the serious nature of the developmental stage of childhood, and created works that reverberated with meaning because they showed the deep places and truth of childhood. He knew that sometimes Maxes do wear their wolf suits and make mischief of one kind or another. He knew that sometimes they want to run wild and be amongst the wild things and escape from the constraints that adults place on them.

I remember working in a childcare setting and we were asked to place a paper cutout of “underwear” on Mickey from In the Night Kitchen. Mickey is a young boy who has a surreal dream about baking a cake with a trio of bakers who resemble Oliver Hardy. In the book, the batter is in him and he is in the batter until he comes out of the batter, creates a dough airplane, and retrieves milk to finish the cake. The book won the Caldecott Award in 1971 despite the controversy over the depiction of a nude Mickey. Critics of the book have objected to Mickey’s nudity which includes not only his buttocks, but also his penis and testicles. Sexual innuendo has been interpreted from the plot points in the book,– the nudity, free-flowing milky fluids, and giant milk bottle. The inclusion of Mickey’s nudity has been frequently raised as morally problematic. In the Night Kitchen is one of the most banned or challenged books in the United States. I thought when we were asked to cover Mickey that it was ridiculous. I still do. Have you ever watched a three year old gleefully run naked through the house? Gleeful because they know that they are naked and they don’t care and they are savoring the freedom of that moment.

Tonight I will listen to the incomparable Carole King’s voice as she sings the main character from Really Rosie— a story about a precocious girl who organizes all the children in her neighborhood into a performance troupe to act out the musical of the demise of her brother. Rosie dreams of stardom. Not sugar and spice and everything nice.

I hope when I dream this evening I will see fanged, horned, and striped monsters and I will cry out “Let the Wild Rumpus begin!” Mr. Sendak you will be missed.

Olympia by Manet

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In 1865 at the Paris Salon a painting was first exhibited. Some such as Emil Zola declared it a masterpiece. Others thought it a vulgar, immoral abomination and there were repeated attempts to destroy the painting as it hung on display.

It was not such a remarkable painting. Certainly there is a long tradition of artists painting naked Venus lounging supine, eyes drooping with satiation.

But Olympia was different. Manet chose not to create a representation that idealized feminine sexuality. Rather he painted a woman revealed. The painting proclaims both the power and the brutality of her nakedness. It greatly offended many people in the time period, but moved art in a different direction. Manet has been quoted as saying that rather than correcting nature and idealizing women and the female form, why not paint the truth?

So, he took the symbols of the day and changed them. Rather than including the black dog that symbolizes fidelity in paintings, he included a black cat to symbolize prostitution. Olympia lies on an oriental shawl, she wears pearl earrings and an orchid in her hair, and a black maid brings in flowers from a man–flowers that Olympia does not bother to acknowledge. The image is of a woman who stares out from the canvass and she has power within her circumstance. She has wealth and sensuality and is not beholden unto a man. The style of the painting is such that Olympia is not bathed in the golden tones of lowlight but rather a harsher, more illuminating and direct light is inferred. This reinforces the message of the painting.

The painting echoes and reverberates with ambiguous meaning. Olympia is powerful. Powerful because of her naked sensuality. Powerful as a woman. But there is a brutality to her situation that is as mean as the direct gaze that emanates from her eyes. She stares potentially across the room at the face of a lover who has entered her chambers. She stares at her present but where is her future? The flowers that the maid holds will wither and die. Is Olympia’s power only because of those who gaze upon her? Or settled behind her eyes that gaze out onto the world?

Alexandre Farto aka Vhils

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Alexandre Farto is a Portugese born artist. Currently he is working with materials and spaces that he finds in situ. By vandalizing buildings he is carving out art– transforming everyday decay into works of beauty. The artist a day website says that he is currently working with a mix of Quink ink and bleach and describes his work as: “Vhils art is poetic, complex, and ambitious, often focusing on the needs we have abandoned in favour of our wants, and the realisation that trading pleasure back in for happiness will be a less than straightforward exchange.”

Please visit Alexandre Farto’s website at http://www.alexandrefarto.com

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Minotaur-Emil Alzamora

I found this image of a sculpture by the artist Emil Alzamora through the artist a day website.  Its realism in depicting the minotaur I found compelling so I thought I would share it.  The link to view more Emil Alzamora art through the artist a day website is http://www.artistaday.com/?p=3199
A friend of mine named Deforest Piper who is an exceptionally talented writer and an artist recently wrote a poem entitled Asterion and Emil Alzamora’s sculpture made me think of it.  I e-mailed Deforest this morning and he sent me his poem and said that I could post it on my blog.  Here it is:
Asterion
He had a really fucked up family.
I mean when your nephew kicks to death
Your niece for having the gall to get
Raped. That’s not right. This same kid, angry
To the end, killed his father then killed
Himself. But nobody really knows
Why. We just have the story and who knows
If that’s right. You can’t trust his family.
His cousin married the man who killed
His brother. His mother put to death
His father’s lovers, and was angry
Enough, and horny enough, to get
Knocked up by a bull of a man. You get
That sort of thing when everybody knows
Everyone. These small islands breed angry
Folk; and you can’t really blame family
For your own problems. But he did ’til death
Took him down. His sister’s lover killed
Him because his killers father killed
His brother. It doesn’t ever get
Easier to figure out and ugly death
Seems to be the only end for who knows
How many generations. Family
Killing family. Always angry.
Animal crazy, not just angry.
Hell no! After all it’s not just who killed
Who in his whacked out, fucked up family.
His uncle dreamed big only to get
Burned (along with the world). Everyone knows
His niece’s kids brought the world more death
Than anyone. Ten years of hard death
Those kids brought. Wouldn’t you be angry
At all of this? Heaven alone knows
What would have happened if they hadn’t killed
His hopes. They locked him up so he couldn’t get
His stars. Nope. All he had was family.
His family was responsible, you know?
He was surrounded by death, so he killed.
He could get nothing, so he got angry.