Post #1006 • May 22, 2007, 4:36 PM • 6 Comments
Boston—Any considerable gathering of Hopper paintings is going to invite a comparison between his watercolors and his oils. Hopper had an economical touch, but a very different sense of economy compared to someone like Manet. Hopper would minimalistically group shapes together in a cool manner, so one doesn't admire his brushwork in oils, so much as one might admire that he knew when to quit work on a shape while he was ahead. Color areas, therefore, tend to stack up in his oils like blocks of cheese. That's why his architectural forms come off so much more gracefully than his figures.
But watercolor doesn't want to look weighty. One has to coax it into dimensionality. In a sense, Hopper's bricklayer touch (I mean that as a compliment) met with the natural tendencies of watercolor in a way that neutralized the weakest aspects of each. He was able to create hard edges and high volume with a medium not given to either, and the watercolor injected playfulness, lightness, warmth, and even panache into an oeuvre that rather needed them. I don't think Hopper would have made the impact he did if he had only worked on the scale of his watercolors or with their more modest pictorial ambitions. But taken for themselves they depict a happy combination of talent and material.