I've long been fascinated by the paintings of Edward Hopper, ever since I studied them in the pages of books at University. So when I was recently stopping off in our capital city, I couldn't resist the opportunity to pop into the Tate Modern and check out a full exhibition of his work.
Nighthawks (above) is Hopper's best known piece. The painting depicts an all-night diner in which three customers, all lost in their own thoughts, have congregated. The brushstrokes that defined a genre, which would later become known as film noir, were actually painted in 1942, right in the middle of the second world war.
Fluorescent lights had recently come into use and the all-night diner emits an eerie glow, like a beacon on the dark street corner. The artist eliminated any reference to an entrance, and the viewer (or voyeur), is drawn to the light and shut out from the situation by a window.
This exhibition is the first of Hopper's in
His early works give the clues to some of the key elements that Hopper would explore throughout his life, including his dramatic use of artificial light and the solitary pensive figures he paints, usually standing in interior spaces.
His entire body of work explores themes of isolation and voyeurism. Light shines in through the windows onto lonely figures. Rooms take on moods, but the people inside them are expressionless.
Painted four years before his death, Sun In An Empty Room offers the suggestion that light can become a presence in itself. Devoid of any figure, the room is nonetheless inhabited. Once asked what it was he was trying to express here, Hopper simply replied "Myself".
In 'Two Comedians' (above) Hopper's final painting, a man and a woman (widely assumed to represent Hopper and his wife), appear on stage in Pierrot costumes, to bow out in a theatrical farewell.
Part of the appeal of his work is the unsetlling feeling that we have seen these things before. Everyday situations become unsettling. The mundane becomes weird!
"Maybe I am not very human." Hopper once said about one of his paintings. "What I really wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of a house."