DC at Night

DC at Night

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Artist as Voyeur: Hopper and Hitchcock

Could this be a Hopper house?
From ominous, billowing curtains to the light and dark shadows of deserted city streets, painter Edward Hopper and film director Alfred Hitchcock, both solitary children who grew up to explore the alienation and loneliness inherent in living in modern times, employed many of the same visual techniques in their art. 

The shared concerns and recurring motifs of  Hopper and Hitchcock were the subject of the lecture Spectatorship and Voyeurism in the Art of Edward Hopper and Alfred Hitchcock delivered at the National Gallery of Art by lecturer David Gariff. The lecture was part of a series celebrating the art and times of George Bellows, one of the featured artists at the Gallery this summer.

Gariff said Hitchcock made it clear that he included Hopper, most known for his painting Night Hawks, as one of his most important influences. In fact, Hitchcock called Hopper one of his 2 favorite American painters.

"It was a 2-way street," Gariff said. "Hitchcock wasn't only looking at Hopper; Hopper was looking at Hitchcock."

When Hopper felt stymied in his creativity, he would head to the movies for inspiration. "I go on a movie binge," Hopper said of those times. "I go to the movies for a week or more."
Night Hawks: Can you see this as a sketch for a Hitchcock film?
Just as Hitchcock's characters had trouble connecting with others, Hopper's characters always seem on the verge of telling a story they never tell. "Unconsciously I was painting the loneliness of a large city," Hopper said of Night Hawks.

Both artists included scenes from theaters, offices, diners and trains in their work. Some of Hopper's house sketches could have been the direct model for Hitchcocks famed Bates Motel from his classic Psycho. And both showed a fascination with stairways. "Nobody used stairways better than Hitchcock did," Gariff said. "Everyone in the theater is saying 'don't go up that staircase.' And, of course, the greatest staircase is in the Bates house."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
When I saw the Hopper/Hitchcock talk advertised, I knew I would be attending. Psycho is one of what I consider to be the 3 most chilling films ever made. (For the record, the other 2 are The Exorcist and Alien). Meanwhile, Hopper is one of my 3 favorite American artists. (Again, for the record the other 2 are Romare Bearden and Robert Rauschenberg). And Night Hawks is my favorite American painting. I fondly recall spending a great 1/2 hour once, examining it at the Chicago Art Institute where it now resides.

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