Friday 31 December 2010

Edward Hopper

In my last post, on Robert Cottingham, I showed a detail from one of Edward Hopper’s paintings, and think that it would be appropriate to end the year taking a look at some more of his work.

Hopper has always been one of my favourite artists, and was an early influence on my own work, since I fell in love with his painting Early Sunday Morning when I stumbled across it (not literally – it was hanging on the wall) in the Whitney Museum, New York, way back in 1969.

Hopper (born Nyack, New York 1882) is the best-known American realist of the inter-war period, once said: 'The man's the work. Something doesn't come out of nothing.' This offers a clue to interpreting the work of an artist who was not only intensely private, but who made solitude and introspection important themes in his painting.

By 1899 he had already decided to become an artist, but his parents persuaded him to begin by studying commercial illustration because this seemed to offer a more secure future. Later, at the New York School of Art, he studied under Robert Henri, one of the fathers of American Realism - a man whom he later described as 'the most influential teacher I had'.

In 1906 he followed the fashion to study in Paris but was later to claim that it had little effect on him - he hadn’t even heard of Picasso while there for instance. He visited Europe on two more occasions – in 1909 and 1910 – then never went to Europe again.

Hopper had settled in Greenwich Village, which was to be his base for the rest of his life, and in 1923 he renewed his friendship with a neighbour, Jo Nivison, whom he had known when they were fellow students under Henri. She was now forty and Hopper fortytwo. In the following year they married. Their long and complex relationship was to be the most important of the artist's life.

From the time of his marriage, Hopper's professional fortunes changed. His second solo show, at the Rehn Gallery in New York in 1924, was a sell-out. The following year, he painted what is now generally acknowledged to be his first fully mature picture, The House by the Railroad. With its deliberate, disciplined spareness, this is typical of what he was to create thereafter.

House by the Railroad 1925

His paintings combine apparently incompatible qualities. Modern in their bleakness and simplicity, they are also full of nostalgia for the puritan virtues of the American past - the kind of quirky nineteenth-century architecture Hopper liked to paint, for instance, could not have been more out of fashion than it was in the mid 1920s, when he first began to look at it seriously.

Once it took off, his career was little affected by the Depression, had become extremely well known. In 1929, he was included in the Museum of Modern Art's second exhibition, Paintings by Nineteen Living Americans, and in 1930 The House by the Railroad entered the museum's permanent collection. In the same year, the Whitney Museum bought Hopper's Early Sunday Morning it's most expensive purchase up to that time. In 1933 Hopper was given a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. This was followed, in 1950, by a fuller retrospective show at the Whitney.

Early Sunday Morning 1930

Some paintings, such as his celebrated image of a gas-station, Gas painted in 1940, even have elements which anticipate Pop Art.

Gas 1940

When the link between the outer world he observed and the inner world of feeling and fantasy broke, Hopper found he was unable to create. In particular, the rise of Abstract Expressionism left him marooned artistically, for he disapproved of many aspects of the new art. He died in 1967, isolated if not forgotten, and Jo Hopper died ten months later. His true importance has only been fully realized in the years since his death. His painting Nighthawks is now one of the most iconic paintings of the C20th.

 Nighthawks 1942

 Drug Store 1927

 Automat 1927

 Night Windows 1928

 The Lighthouse at Two Lights 1929

 New York Movie 1939

 Pennsylvania Coal Town 1947

 Seven A.M. 1948

 Rooms by the Sea 1951

 Office in a Small City 1953

 Second Story Sunlight 1960

 New York Office 1962

 Sun in an Empty Room 1963

Chair Car 1965

Monday 27 December 2010

Ralph Goings - photorealist

Ralph Goings (born 1928 Corning, California) is another American painter loosely associated with the Photorealism movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He studied art at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California.

He’s best known for his highly detailed paintings of diners, pick-up trucks, and California banks, portrayed in a deliberately objective manner and bathed in SoCal sunshine. I rather like his still-lifes best – he seems to have made the humble ketchup bottle an iconic image and so I’m featuring quite a few of those here.

He’s been painting them for four decades now, though his more recent works are less photorealist, looser and more textural – the last painting shown here (below) of a cake, is more reminiscent of Wayne Thiebaud’s work (see earlier post) than Goings’ own oeuvre.

Ralph Goings: "In 1963 I wanted to start painting again but I decided I wasn't going to do abstract pictures. It occurred to me that I should go as far to the opposite as I could. ... It occurred to me that projecting and tracing the photograph instead of copying it freehand would be even more shocking. To copy a photograph literally was considered a bad thing to do. It went against all of my art school training... some people were upset by what I was doing and said 'it's not art it can't possibly be art'. That gave me encouragement in a perverse way, because I was delighted to be doing something that was really upsetting people... I was having a hell of a lot of fun..."
"My paintings are about light, about the way things look in their environment and especially about how things look painted.
Form, colour and space are at the whim of reality, their discovery and organization is the assignment of the realist painter."

Thursday 23 December 2010

Richard Estes - photorealist

Following on from my post on Chuck Close I thought I'd take a look at some of the other artists associated with photorealism. Richard Estes (born1932, Kewanee, Illinois) is another famous photorealist artist. His paintings generally consist of reflective, clean, and inanimate cityscapes. He is regarded as one of the founders of the international photorealist movement of the late 1960s, with such painters as Ralph Goings, Chuck Close and Duane Hanson.

At an early age, the Estes family moved to Chicago where he studied fine arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago between 1952 - 56. He frequently studied the works of realist painters such as Edgar Degas, Edward Hopper, and Thomas Eakins, who are strongly represented in the Art Institute's collection. After he completed his course of studies, Estes moved to New York where for the next ten years he worked as a graphic artist for various magazine publishers and advertising agencies in New York and Spain. During this period, he painted in his spare time. He had lived in Spain since 1962 and by 1966 was financially able to give up the day job.

Beginning around 1967, he began to paint shopfronts and buildings with glass windows and more importantly, the reflected images shown on these windows. The paintings were based on colour photographs he would take, which trapped the evanescent nature of the reflections, which would change in part with the lighting and the time of day. Estes' paintings were based on several photographs of the subject. He avoided using famous New York landmarks. Though called a photorealist I personally think that his paintings have an edgy feel. He uses the language of Edward Hopper - often a deserted urban environment, free of litter, but stuck in another time dimension – I think of them more as photo-surrealist.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Chuck Close self-portraits

This post is the last in my mini-series on self-portraits and it's an important one. Chuck Close is one of the world's leading contemporary artists, originally associated with the Photorealists movement in America. The next series of posts will take a look at other Photorealists.

Close suffered a devastating spinal infection in 1988 that left him a quadriplegic. Since then he has developed an extraordinary technique using a complex grid-based reconstruction of the photographs that he works from - typically portraits of himself, his family and friends - to create really large-scale works. He has also been creating photographic montages on enormous sheets of Polaroid paper amongst many other techniques.

Charles Thomas (Chuck) Close was born in Monroe, Washington in 1940. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1962 and from Yale in 1964. He was the 1997 UW Alumnus Summa Laude Dignatus - the highest university honor for one of its graduates. Close's work is included in the collections of numerous museums, including the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Guggenheim Museum (New York), and the Tate Gallery (London). The New York Museum of Modern Art held a special exhibit of Close's paintings and prints in 1998; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held an exhibit on Close's prints in 2004.

This first self-portrait dates from 1967-8 and the second image shows the impressive scale of it.



 1987 Polaroid - look at the scale below



Detail of the above - if you squint you'll recognise the eye


 (Date unknown)

 2005 Polaroid

 2006 Tapestry

 2007 Screenprint

2008 Collage

Pressed pulp (date unknown)

 Note: A number of images have been removed by me from this post on possible copyright issues. Poul Webb