Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Hopper Painting Poems

In the last week, I’ve posted three poems on paintings by the American artist Edward Hopper (1882-1967). Critics and art historians generally classify his work as “realism;” some consider him the iconic painter of America.

I’m not an art critic; I just like his paintings, and always have. I also like the fact that while he didn’t get established as a painter until his 40s, he resisted all of the trends and fads of the art scene and stuck to what he knew he should, the kind of paintings he was most comfortable with. Today you can see one of his paintings in a museum and know without checking the little card on the wall that it’s an Edward Hopper. His work looks like his own work.

Last year, my wife and I were in Chicago for a long Mother’s Day weekend. I had a speech to give at a conference on that Thursday, and she had learned that a British singing duo named Chad and Jeremy were doing three concerts in Chicago that weekend, including a house concert in Wilmette in the northern suburbs. My wife’s longstanding love affair with Chad and Jeremy’s music is another story, but suffice it to say that we splurged on tickets for the Friday night house concert, she got to talk with them face to face and the lady who organized the whole thing was able to squeeze us in to the concert for Sunday night in Evanston. I watched my wife become 12 years old again.

On Saturday, we caught the next-to-last day of a “mega-exhibit” at Chicago’s Art Institute. The exhibit was a “two-fer” – a double show of the works of Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper. The Art Institute is the home of Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” painted in 1947 and one of the most famous paintings in modern American art. I liked the Homer part, but I loved the Hopper exhibit. I had seen some of his paintings before, but never so many in one place. The Art Institute and its cooperating museums had done a stunning job of curating the exhibit. I bought the exhibit catalog and a mammoth biography of Hopper by Gail Levin.

While I wandered into the poetry closet this summer on this blog, I happened to start looking at the exhibit catalog, and for whatever reason, the painting “Room in New York” caught my eye. And I began to write some thoughts, and then more thoughts, and then I suddenly I was looking at the rough draft of a poem. That rough draft eventually became this.

In the case of the Hopper paintings, I’ve found that the poems are another way to look at the art, as one of the comments on the “Blackhead, Monhegan” poem pointed out – art plus text. I used a similar approach with the poem for “Early Sunday Morning.”
Hopper’s work is usually sorted into three categories – interiors, landscapes and streetscapes. I’ve now done a poem about a painting in each of the three. I’m thinking about doing others, but I may be content with what I’ve done so far. As I said, I love Hopper’s work. (I also like the look of his paintings against the black background of the blog.) But he painted a lot of stuff, and I’d be occupied for a long time to come if I tried to write a poem for each. And – don’t let anyone kid you – poetry is hard work. Lots of drafts. Lots of chewing on single words. Lots of paper tablet sheets. Over and over again, and you’re still never really finished.

For now, the poems for the three works stand as a tribute to the artist. And then I really like "New York Movie," and "Summer Evening." And there’s "Hotel Room," and "Gas," and "Sunday," and "Drug Store." And, of course, "Nighthawks."

Okay, we’ll see.

Related: Edward Hopper and his painting at Artsy.

Edward Hopper, Self-Portrait, oil on canvas, 1925-1930, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.


L.L. Barkat said...

I think it's important to write what you love, just as Hopper painted the way he loved to paint. So if you want to do more, do them. And if you want to write about Mary for a while (or maybe Joseph now), why do that too.

The poems will take you where you need to go.

Oh, and I loved this... "I watched my wife become 12 years old again."

Maybe that's how this poetry thing is feeling? :)

Maureen said...

Nice post, Glynn. Like L.L., the line about your wife also stayed with me. "A kid in a candy shop": What could be better than feeling so delighted with all the choices before you? Your heart will guide your pencil, or maybe that red pen we all use in our scratchings, even after they've seen the light of day. I couldn't imagine not having art around, not writing, not listening to music or reading books. I'm so happy I discovered a group of people who feel the same.

nAncY said...

i am glad to read about your trip to chicago, a conference, a speech, your wife, the art, your thoughts on art and words, the concert! thanks for sharing this time in the life of you and your wife, and all the rest. thanks for being the open and interesting person that God made you to be.