To be honest with you, I was never a big Ed Hopper fan. But here I was staring down a week of vacation time without a book to read, and a friend at the local library recommended Edward Hopper, An Intimate Biography by Gail Levin. I’ve got to tell you. The first third of this book had me a bit hot under the collar. It amounts to a lengthy slag against illustration. Hopper got his start in illustration. It paid his bills for close to a decade. But the book details how he detested illustration, viewing it as only a means to pay bills so he could pursue his fine art. I had difficulty discerning whether Hopper indeed hated illustration or Gail Levin was indulging in anti-illustration bias. Ironically, for most of his career, Hopper had to answer to whether or not his paintings were art or illustration.
What is truly remarkable about Hopper’s personal life was his long suffering wife, Jo. Her personal diaries account for the backbone of this book. When they got married, she was an accomplished artist and free spirit. She eventually passed up her career to facilitate Hopper’s. Not only was she the female model in every Hopper painting, She was also a copious note taker, even recording the types of pigments Hopper used in each painting. She also paints Hopper as an antisocial, rightwing S.O.B. This was indeed a marriage made in hell. He was a puncher and she was scratcher and a biter who went on more that one hunger strike protesting her husband. Through it all she was an energetic promoter of his art and career while Ol’ Eddie did just about everything in his power to sabotage hers.
Last week I had the opportunity to hunker down with new eyes in front of “Gas” at the MoMA. He may have been a jerk, but he was a pretty damned good painter.