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Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Hopper's America



Edward Hopper's famous Night Hawk canvas



He felt the weight of prairie vastness in the urban space,
the loneliness such sparseness of expanse can bring,
the seep of grassland into city wariness, the way
great distance can be squeezed into a downtown street.

He saw the spaces infiltrating neighbourhoods
like wedges prising could-be friends apart, or solid hedges,
impenetrable, keeping people in. For hedge, a block
of darkened pigment: loneliness, a figure gaoled in light.

His landscape was a tableau frozen from time's stream,
a known world, stranger than we'd known, where nothing moved.
There were no doors, no corridors, no exits from the bleakness
and no absconding from his silent dream. No recoil to reality.

Always, it seemed, an unknown ghost was waiting to appear.

30 comments:

Lizzy Frizzfrock said...

What a great commentary. I love the analogy of loneliness on a vast prairie squeezed into an urban space where loneliness pervades. One can be lonely in the midst of a crowd.

Janie at Sounding Forth said...

I've not seen that canvas. Beautiful. As is your writing.

Jim Murdoch said...

A decent analysis of Hopper. I love his work. My daughter bought me a print of Nighthawks a couple of years back. It may have lost some of its power due to continual reproduction with a variety of occupants in the diner but I still like it. I'm amazed that Janie had never seen it before. There are times some of his works, especially those of people alone in bare rooms, make me want to shudder.

Tabor said...

The loneliness is permeable in his paintings and somewhat haunting for me. I could never see a city that way, the country, yes. But cities need to be crowded and loud and the poor outside nature can never make it in.

Stephen Dell'Aria said...

I once had Hopper’s painting, Gas, explained to me as having the tension of waiting for a nuclear bomb to explode; an apt way to express it. He is my favorite American artist and must have been quite a voyeur. I think the sexual tension is what drives his paintings.

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

There's no doubt that loneliness can inhabit urban spaces. I was not aware of Hopper until another friend via RWP wrote a poem about his painting 'Early Sunday Morning'. It looks like part of the same street. But then, maybe all lonely streets look the same!
Great poem.

lakeviewer said...

Dave, good to see you again, writing and reacting to art. Love this, speaks of Hopper's essence.

John Hayes said...

A very good poem, & a very smart one at that. I think you've divined something real about space both in the painting & in U.S. identity. That first line is so good & really draws the reader in.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I always think of him as a lonely man who is not comfortable in his own skin - I think it comes through in his pictures. As you so rightly say - he sees the country in the city as though he is never happy in either.
How is the building work going?

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Great, great, great. I vaguely remember Hopper, my knowledge on these matters is very limited but your poem is just great.
Perfect rhythm and images. And perfect the unknown ghost waiting at the end.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

And I wrote about this poem of yours in my blog.
Taking the opportunity to enclose one of mine.

Karen said...

You often write about art, but I think this is your best ekphrastic poem yet! Your commentary is right on for Hopper.

Conda V. Douglas said...

My, haunting poem, very appropriate for the subject, Dave. And I'd always believed Hopper's Night Hawks to be such an American work--yet you captured the image with your words.

Carl said...

Hi Dave -

Hopper.... My favorite, but yes there was a sense of isolation in all his work. Even when he escaped to Cape Cod and painted homes and lighthouses as subjects there was a feeling of emptyness. He did throw us a lifeline in those summers in a couple of ways. First he caught that magic light of the cape that can cure whatever ails you and I swear make you feel like part of something bigger than yourself. but he also added telephone poles and wires to remind us there is somebody out there and the lighthouses draw you to safe harbor and warn you of danger too. Maybe I read too much into Hopper's Cape Cod paintings, but for me they are a call and response to the questions raised in his urban paintings.

Cracking good post... you are going to have a lot of replying to do when you get back on line!

Carl

Adrian LaRoque said...

Wonderful writing Dave. Yes there is a sense of loneliness in his work...it is America.

enchantedoak said...

I'll join in and give you kudos for your poetic interpretation of Hopper's painting. I've lived in LA, and I relate to what you write about urban space. This is my favorite line in your poem: "the way/great distance can be squeezed into a downtown street."

ScarletTd1ar1es said...

its interesting how you mocked the mordern world.
a tableau frozen from time's stream.
wedges prising could-be friends apart.

loneliness in a crowd. bliss in the time of turmoil.
sheer excellence.

Dick said...

As Karen says, maybe the best picture/poetry match yet, Dave. Excellent.

DALSING said...

I happened on your blog and stayed to read and savor. I have always been drawn to Hopper's work and now I am enjoying yours.

Harlequin said...

I 've always liked this image and now I am delighted to connect it to your words...which have expanded the canvas.

MCJ said...

Wonderful words David. Thank you for new energy this Sunday morning.

A fellow Soul searcher,

~ MCJ ~

Greg C. Gorman said...

Questa mostra è nata infatti con un intento di studio: il curatore Carter Foster, del Whitney Museum di New York, dove si conserva la più ricca raccolta di sue opere, ha voluto porre l'accento sul processo creativo di Hopper, sulla lenta, laboriosa «gestazione della mente» (così la definiva lui), grazie alla quale la prima idea si trasformava nel l'opera compiuta. E ha voluto al contempo correggere la lettura consueta e un po' logora di Hopper maestro del realismo, per condurre la sua pittura nei territori della metafisica, dimostrando come ogni opera nasca dalla fusione di dettagli tratti da realtà diverse, rielaborati in immagini sospese, cariche di attesa e di inquietudine.

readingsully2 said...

That photograph is one of my favorites. :)

Marie said...

Dear Dave,

You have a gift for prose.
Truly capturing the pathos of
one of my favorite artists.
Of course living in New York
Hopper's scenes spring up
here and there; often painfully
beautiful.

Marie

A Cuban In London said...

I quite liked the urban loneliness vs rural solitude theme. We tend to thnk we are accompanied just because there are people around us. And the opposite, as well, that in the middle of the countryside with no other companion than ourselves, that we are alone. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many thanks for such a beautiful piece.

Greetings from London.

Linda Sue said...

LOVE this post, Dave. You might want to come over to my blog and jump into the HOLE with word week just for fun- I am sure that you could come up with an astonishing HOLE!

Adrian LaRoque said...

Dave, were are you?

Dave King said...

To All
My thanks to all. I have been rather overwhelmed by the number of comments received in my absence, so a reall big thank you to all.

The themes that come up most are beauty and loneliness, which is bang on, I think. I have to say, though, that I, too, get Jim's shudder looking at Hopper's paintings. I take Tabor's point about the usual association of what I would call the Hopper feel is with the rural rather than the urban scene - a point taken up also by A Cuban in London.
John raises the relevance of identity as an important theme, something I can readily agree with. And yes, Conda, part of the importance of Hopper is his American identity. I totally agree. I can't tell you how pleasing it is to hear from friends in America that they can feel that in my poem. Carl's mention of the Cape Cod paintings shines an interesting and slightly different light upon Hopper's work, but not thinking myself sufficiently well-informed on the subject, I chickened out of including it.
A warm welcome to Greg and Dal Sing and my thanks to all.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear David, I have at last decided to write a post with an enquiry on Eliot's Four Quartets. It might seem strange but it has been very hard for me to be simple and concise in the post.
Please if you feel you can leave your comment you are very, very welcome and if you have time please tell your friends to leave comments too.

Best wishes,
Davide
(Tommaso)

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it