Frankel Gallery is showing the work of Edward Hopper along with works by photographers who have been influenced by him. His influence on popular culture has been enormous so that you can't look at images of rural emptiness or urban blight without thinking of Hopper. The photographs show loneliness and decay, people who are perennial outsiders, the lonely crowd.
The photographers “get” the urban angst and rural desolation but they miss – for the most part – his light, the emotion in his paintings, that goes beyond their technique. There is one photograph in particular which is of a tumble down clapboard shack, probably somewhere in the South. You can almost see the cockroaches and smell the garbage and greasy food but what you don’t see – what Hopper paints so eloquently – is the inner life of these places and the people in them.
Robert Hughes writes: The word great is crippled by hype these days, and perhaps it merely clouds what it seeks to praise; yet the qualities it suggests—patient, lucid development; the transcendence of mere talent; richness and density of meaning; and a deep sense of moral dignity in the artist's refraction of his own culture—are so evident in Hopper that no other word will really do.
There is one masterpiece in the gallery, Intermission (1963), painted a few years before his death. In Intermission, Hopper again paints a canvas with a solitary figure, a seated woman, preoccupied with her own thoughts, calmly waiting for the play to continue. In any other hands, the spare scene would have been trivial but in his, the diagonal of floor and wallboard are intersected by the vertical lines of the chairs and interrupted by the vertical edge of the stage. Everything is bathed in a luminous off-white light. He does not strive for realism but goes beyond that. Perhaps the woman is a metaphor for us all, waiting for the curtain to rise on the next act of our lives. Hopper takes us beyond the limits of chronological time into a timeless place, an introspective world beyond the fashions of the day and the politics of the time.
Frankel Gallery: through May 2nd: 49 Geary, SF
Gail Levin: Edward Hopper, The art and the artist