Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hopper, Edward

Drug Store
oil on canvas
73.7 x 101.9 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA

Many of Hopper's paintings serenely depict mundane aspects of American city life. Drug Store depicts nocturnal solitude in the city. Eerily illuminated by electric light, the drug store window is a bright spot in a picture otherwise made up of shadowy doorways and blank facades. There is speculation that Silbers’ Pharmacy may have existed near Hopper’s Washington Square studio in New York City. However, the exact location, or if this pharmacy ever existed, is unknown.
The scene is set at night. No one is depicted walking the streets, so we can infer it is the late night, early morning hour. There is light coming only from the drug store. There is a sign hanging across the window: “PRESCRIPTIONS DRUGS EX-LAX.”  There is insight into the presence of Ex-Lax, a common over-the-counter laxative, in the painting. Sigmund Freud’s works on psychosexual development were produced in the mid-1920′s, leading to the belief that Ex-Lax pins reference to the anal stage of Freud’s theory. The timeline lends one to consider the link with Freud.

"Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world." "I don't think I ever tried to paint the American scene; I'm trying to paint myself." (Hopper)

Edward Hopper (1882 - 1967) was a prominent American realist painter. He painted American landscapes and cityscapes with a disturbing truth, expressing the world around him as a chilling, alienating, and often vacuous place. Everybody in a Hopper picture appears terribly alone. Hopper gained a widespread reputation as the artist who gave visual form to the loneliness and boredom of life in the big city. This was something new in art.

He showed the modern world unflinchingly; even its gaieties are gently mournful, echoing the disillusionment and the sense of human hopelessness that swept across the country after the start of the Great Depression in 1929. He painted hotels, motels, trains and highways, and also liked to paint the public and semi-public places where people gathered: restaurants, theaters, cinemas and offices. But even in these paintings he stressed the theme of loneliness - his theaters are often semideserted, with a few patrons waiting for the curtain to go up or the performers isolated in the fierce light of the stage. Hopper was a frequent movie-goer, and there is often a cinematic quality in his work.

As the years went on, however, he found suitable subjects increasingly difficult to discover, and often felt blocked and unable to paint. With Hopper the whole fabric of his art seemed to be interwoven with his personal character and manner of living. 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. His true importance has only been fully realized in the years since his death.