Close reading is one of the peculiar talents of the art critic. It’s not exclusive to the writer who wonders about paintings but it is a necessary skill when covering art. Here Mark Stevens writes about Edward Hopper in New York Magazine. He is developing a theme about Hopper’s work that revolves around four words: Silence, Isolation, Stillness and Heat. From those four words, Stevens ranges far and wide:
What other painter is so radically silent? In Vermeer, you can hear, distantly, Delft outside the door. Agnes Martin hums. The wheels turn softly in Robert Ryman. Hopper? Absolute silence, even in New York. In Rooftops, a watercolor from 1926 that’s in the Whitney’s show, the forms on a New York rooftop make up a crowd, but each form is also a silent single. […] Not only are his pictures suffused with silence, his people cannot see or reach one another. In Soir Bleu, an early (1914) Hopper in the Whitney’s collection, seven people are grouped together, among them a clown who might ordinarily attract attention. Yet each of the seven finds a way to avoid the others. Their lack of connection is not pushed in the viewer’s face, as it might be by an ironist or expressionist. It just is.
[…] Hopper creates the sensation of stillness partly through carefully built compositions that contain nothing fancy. He was a carpenter, not an artisan. He constructed pictures to last, not win plaudits for their artfulness. An abstract painter once told me, with admiration, that Hopper’s pictures were “built like a brick shit house.” […]
Museumgoers, looking at art made decades ago, stand in a privileged position. They analyze, applaud, condemn, condescend. They can forget that the past is also an implicit critic of the present.[…] Hopper’s like that. He recalls what we forget. He does what we can’t—or won’t—do.
The Great American Pessimist (New York Magazine)