There are a couple of things that make the Hopper Drawing show currently running at The Whitney Museum in New York City worth the entrance fee (I’ll save the why-is-it-so-expensive-to-simply-view-art diatribe for another day, but geez Whitney- four bucks? That’s the best you can discount a student?).
The first is the irrefutable technical skill that Hopper possessed. His early drawings for advertisements as well as his academy drawings are all really, very good. The nude figure studies in particular are just lovely.
The second point, which I have been mulling over ever since seeing the show, is the Whitney’s display of Hopper’s process. Now, I’m not one who thinks seeing how the sausage is made necessarily adds anything- many times it doesn’t. Sometimes in fact too much information about the personal lives or processes of artists (of all disciplines) actually ruins the ability to appreciate their work.
But, I have to say, this show is fascinating for just that experience: Hopper’s process. His themes of loneliness are well known, but that feeling of forlorn isolation does not appear in his work until the finished painting. In the drawings, perhaps the angles are experimented with, different shoes or hair styles are tried out, spaces are cropped, but they are completely devoid of his typical narrative – that seems to magically appear with the paint.
Something in the opacity and richness of color, the slight shifts, here and there, of angled heads or tense shoulders…It is hard to pinpoint just exactly what the difference is…well, in Office at Night, there is an obvious one: the female figure goes through a noticeable enhancement (from plain Jane to va va voom), but that adds more to the voyeuristic quality found in much of his work than the yearning for connection that permeates.
It seems to me there is almost a letting go of his actual technical acumen which allows his heartbreaking pictures to come alive and resonate so deeply with the viewer. Standing in front of these paintings…It was not easy to keep my hand from instinctively covering my heart- but I was not alone in that struggle.