Would iconic American painter Edward Hopper like that a biography of his life now exists in graphic novel form? Would he be amused or annoyed? It’s hard to say. No matter. Edward Hopper – The Story of His Life (Prestel) is out in the world and we are free to enjoy its presentation of the artist and his work.
Written by Sergio Rossi and illustrated by Giovanni Scarduelli, the brief book (about 120 pages) obviously does not present an in-depth study of Hopper’s life or art. However, it does use Hopper’s words to describe formative events and to present the artist’s opinion about his work and that of his contemporaries.
In the introduction, Scarduelli explains the dilemma he felt in using his talents to illustrate the life and work of an artist with as singular a style as Hopper’s. Scarduelli notes that he eventually reached a “stylistic point of encounter” between his style and Hopper’s. This compromise included working exclusively with colors that Hopper used and using paintbrush, which was new to Scarduelli.
The result is a beautifully illustrated book that evokes Edward Hopper’s style without being confined by it.
Rossi explains in the introduction that his text is based on interviews that Hopper gave and letters he wrote. These sources have been used by Hopper biographers and Rossi employs these words well to provide a thumbnail sketch of Hopper’s life and beliefs.
The story takes place within the context of conversations between Hopper and his wife Josephine. His childhood is briefly covered, leading to his time spent at the Chase School of Art. His instructors included artists such as Robert Henri and William Merritt Chase, while fellow students included George Bellows and Rockwell Kent.
Following school, Hopper made several trips to Paris, which proved to be crucial to his artistic development. These sojourns are covered in some detail. They’re followed by years of struggle before Hopper’s marriage to Jo and his breakthrough years in the 1920s.
The final chapter, before a brief epilogue and a cast of characters section, finds an older Hopper and Jo reflecting on his work and philosophy. Hopper is, of course, most famous for Nighthawks (1942), an iconic painting of the solitary patrons of a New York City diner. While Nighthawks was and continues to be referenced and parodied, Hopper had established himself years before he painted it as a chronicler of urban scenes, particularly in New York City. As Scarduelli makes clear however, Hopper was not comfortable being categorized as an American painter.
Grant Wood’s American Gothic (1930) hangs near Nighthawks at the Art Institute of Chicago. Hopper is quoted, “I know you’re surprised to hear this from someone who votes conservative, but like most Americans, I am a blend of many races. So I never tried to paint the American scene, like Grant Wood, for example.”
The last pages of the book briefly peer into the darker aspects of the Hoppers’ marriage that are hinted at elsewhere, as Jo confronts Edward about her dedication to his artistic career and his lack of support for hers.
Rossi and Scarduelli include a bibliography for anyone who wants to pursue more about Hopper’s life and work. We’ll never know what Hopper himself would make of such a book, But Edward Hopper–The Story of His Life is a nice introduction to anyone who has gazed at Nighthawks and wondered about the man who brought that lonely vision to life.