Detour to Basel
Damn! Hopper at the Beyeler in Basel and I was going to miss it.
Luckily however, a vacation in Italy planned in January remained on track despite Covid-19 and actually because of the virus the show was extended. Having already planned to drive made traveling safe, only having to take precautions in hotels and restaurants. Following our first stop in Nancy, we headed on towards our hotel in Bern via a short detour south to Basel and Beyeler.
Hopper has always been a touchstone for me. For one thing we are both Americans, we attended the same art academy in New York and actually lived just 20 minutes from each other, Hopper in Nyack NY, myself in Pearl River. This great artist passed without my knowing of his existence in 1967, when I was just 14, the year I began oil painting.
It has only dawned on me after many years living and traveling in Europe how much our shared nationality, not to mention our regional proximity, has formed and identified us as artists. There is for me nothing mysterious or exotic in Hopper’s art. I know his art directly, it is a matter of osmosis. We’re in the same family.
This painting really got my attention. The balancing of figuration and abstraction in Hopper’s work was never so evident as in this detail from “Cape Cod morning”. I made a small study in front of the piece and wrote the following: “ I also see for the first time how Hopper moved color (often abstracted shadows, curtains, shutters, etc…) across his compositions. And with how much feeling he felt out his compositions.” Without the figure and (?) the stacked horizontal lines representing clapboards in the light grey vertical shape behind her, this is a very solid abstract painting.
I knew that Hopper often made careful drawings of his subject matter accompanied by detailed notes. So it surprised me somewhat to see that beyond his careful observations he also played and played carefully with color and shape combinations. He somehow had the ability to not only record visual reality including mood, atmosphere and lighting, but also shifted and rearranged his minutely observed compositions to attain a very refined abstract balance.
A quality of this exhibit that struck me immediately was my unfamiliarity with much of the work. I have books on Hopper and have seen his paintings in many collections but here I met quite a few strangers. There were of course a number of famous works which matched the image already carried in my head, and that is always pleasant. However it was the oddball pieces, the “this is Hopper?” paintings that surprised me and made me really look.
The regrets of unseen exhibitions that Covid-19 screwed up for me and many others were to some extent made right by this virus-prolonged show.