Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Personal Misprision in Edward Hopper

I first met Edward Hopper, formally, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art accompanied by my friend Nikki. We happened upon "The Lighthouse at Two Lights" and I felt the need to say something. "I love Hopper." I said. Nikki asked me why. I responded that Hopper paints landscapes that I'd like to inhabit someday. She looked at me with an incredulous smile. The sort of smile that is whitewashed in pity for one who speaks, but doesn't "know". Being the more knowledgeable one on things art (and an incredibly gifted artist in her own right) Nikki explained to me Hopper's angle. Solitude. Frequently captured in sun washed landscapes of New York City or coastal towns. The grating harshness of the sun is meant to ostracize rather than invite. The sun beams on subjects so bright as to alienate them from the environment. The lighthouse, for example, is situated on a hill around noon (judging by the angle of the light) This keeps it from the dynamism of it's function--to light the way for ships approaching in the darkness of night. There is also no vision of sea. It is a portrait of American ephemera. A seemingly defunct lighthouse, still alive and alone on a hill. But my initial reaction to Hopper--I want to exist in his paintings. My visceral response to Hopper has not changed since then. It sometimes frightens me that this is my reaction. But it always excites me to see Edward Hopper's work.

Anyway, I've never been one to read things correctly. Perhaps this is why I like poetry and its passive aggressions. I (mis)read this poem today.

You, who carry daylight on your face

You, who carry daylight on your face
the best of us all, the sky is lust,
and stills my zippered spine. Observe my envy
of the sea where you wade, its surface
like an afternoon of swordplay.
You shun the lips of infants disguised as men.
Young girls cherish the mirrors where you
quickly collect yourself. The neighbors
know your comings and goings, but the syntax
of your smiles is revealed only to little children.

-Poem by Major Jackson
Holding Company 2010 W.W. Norton

-Andrew E. Colarusso


  1. Edward Hopper! Probably my favorite painter. Not that I am particularly knowledgeable of painters, but his works are very alluring to me. Despite knowing that they are about solitude, I have always wanted to inhabit a painting as well. I was first introduced to Edward Hopper in a magazine by my father, who pointed to Nighthawks and told me that I would see this painting a thousand more times in a thousand places, but I should always remember how I felt looking at it then, for the first time. My first reaction was how lovely it would have been to be in that cafe on a dark night.

    A friend once told me that my immense love of Edward Hopper was a betrayal. I never understood what he meant exactly, but I always think about it when I am fawning over Edward Hopper's paintings. I have only been truly betrayed once in my life, and it was a terrible feeling, as if all my inner organs had just clustered right in my esophagus. I do not feel this way when I look at Edward Hopper, so I don't know how it is betrayal. Anyways, I digress. His paintings remind me of Prufrock. The poem exudes a sadness, but I can't seem to stay away from it, and I am drawn into it endlessly.

    I haven't read Major Jackson before. I like this poem. Any collection that you particularly recommend?

  2. I just got through Holding Company. It's incredible and well paced. It leans toward the masculine, but is not specifically for men. Having just read it I can't give you a fully thought out opinion. I'm still filtering through. Just barely considered the title. But it's well worth a read.

  3. This poem by Jackson reminded me of my feeling for Hopper. I immediately placed myself in its space. I carry daylight in my face. I want to inhabit the sparse, beautiful wasteland of the Hopper painting. But I fear what that means. I think both Hopper and Jackson touch upon the solitude of ambition--of inhabiting the tower, the unreal edifice of imagination.

  4. New York Movie, by Hopper, is another example of an odd violence. The usher stands beyond the diegesis of the film, draped in light watching the spectators. I imagine she works nightly to inhabit the new dutch architecture of the theater and symbolically of New York City. They are, in a sense, her responsibility, her livelihood and burden. I like that one particularly because I'm an usher as well.

  5. People should hold their "incredulous smiles" and maybe more people would feel that
    art was accessible to them. When I was in kindergarten the student teacher was giving out construction paper for some project. When she came to me I chose lavender and she said,
    "Wouldn't you rather have a brighter color?" I said no. Centuries later, I am still proud of that six year old. (I am also old enough to remember the red velvet seats and ropes of the movie palaces...in my memory, cold but beautiful places. And I too continue to feel "welcomed" by Hopper's places.)

  6. Yes. Better than I had even dreamed.