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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Edward Hopper's Depression

Recently, we find ourselves amidst what many are calling "The Great Recession."  Although I don't claim to have coined the phrase, I did predict its use long before it became common.   It was simply to apt not to come about.  And, though times are tough, especially for those unemployed or underemployed, this era lacks the bleakness and severity by a very wide margin of that which we've come to call "The Great Depression."  This tired, trying, drab, depressive era in American history had its own music, its own literature, its own movies, even its own art.
The Nigh Hawks, 1942, Edward Hopper

Moreover, no artist more perfectly represents the harsh, barren realities of Depression America than does the work of Edward Hopper. Born in 1882 and working well into the 1960's he painted this country's darkest and brightest periods with the same colors of cold, lonely, isolation. Exhibiting the infuence of Robert Henri and John Sloan, Hopper was also the product of commercial art, signs, and the advertising imagery he had to rely upon for survival in many of the bleakest years of our collective economic and social depression. His cityscapes feature strong, baking sunlight, painted from a low vantage point with stark whites and cold, blue shadows, often devoid of human habitation, underline the haunting loneliness that pervaded his artistic existence.

Even when he escaped the city and painted the New England coast, Hopper's monumental landscapes are quite empty of detail and warmth despite his obvious use of warm colors. Like the regionalism of other artists of the time like Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and John Steuart Curry, Hopper's work reflects his deep, preoccupied personality and the overhelming emptiness he saw in the American urban scene. In 1932, Hopper achieved a degree of recognition from the art establishment when he was elected a member of the National Academy of Design. Characteristically, he declined the honor. His work had been rejected by the organization too many times.

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