Johnny Dombrowski

Hopper Drawing

I’ve never seen anyone paint, and now draw, quiet quite like Edward Hopper. In that eerie silence, he’s able to capture something only he can put his fingers on. A strange, and at times, overwhelming sense of burden that hangs in the atmosphere. As if one morning, these few people woke up to find that everyone else had completely vanished. Without a trace. And now, trapped in some form of purgatory- full of empty houses with the lights still on, empty roads without a single car in sight- these people are forced to live out their lives. Tending to an empty gas station, drinking the same coffee for hours on end, or helping people to their seats to watch the same movie over and over again. Day in and day out. It’s quiet. Dead quiet…

I went to Whitney Museum the other day with a friend and fellow illustrator, Lily Padula, to visit the new “Hopper Drawing” exhibit, showing just how much study and process went to his work. Some examples so extensive in fact that entire rooms were devoted to single paintings.

Trying to harness that odd quality, Lily mentioned something that fit perfectly. We’re the ones spying in on a film set or movies stills. Peeking through windows or looking over our shoulders. Looking at something that isn’t quite real and isn’t quite right.  All of the storefronts are empty, there’s no sign of anything at all, let alone garbage or dirt on the sidewalks. Everything is right where it should be. Everything seems perfect… but we all know better.

Spying into cities of people with black doll eyes, I felt my body grow more and more tense by the second. It’s to a point where I had to control myself from shaking- from screaming at the top of my lungs. All because of a woman biting her nails or a clown smoking a cigarette. It’s as if Hopper has sucked all of the air out of the room and sealed all of the exits. All we can do now is sit and wait for time to run out.

And at the same time, it’s amazing to compare hauntingly still paintings with charcoal studies full of energy and movement. Instead of sitting on the curb, we’re going for a ride, watching trees and houses blur passed us. Every study quickly planning each nook and cranny in all of the paintings- at times devoting one or more drawings to a single man’s back or how one hand sits just right on a pair of crossed legs.

The energy of the rushed and loose strokes is lost in the thick oil and whether the studies are more successful than the final product can depend on the viewer or the piece. Regardless, my body is always drawn to the auras the paintings give off. Tying those knots in my stomach.  

It was the first time seeing New York Movie in person for me- easily my favorite of his work. I had to go back to see it one more time before we left. Just to make sure she was still there, waiting.

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    NY Movie: My favorite Hopper.
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