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Finding poetry in the commonplace


Courtesy of the Elisabeth Ball Collection

It’s apparent from his work that Hopper took great notice of the bareness of the hills, and of geometry in general. In his paintings, he played over and over again with the interaction between buildings and the land, angles and shadows, and especially the light. Philip Koch, an artist from Baltimore and a self-proclaimed “Hopper nut,” points to Hopper’s ability to capture sunlight as one of his greatest strengths as an artist. “It’s dazzling and solid,” Koch says, “and no one nailed it like he did.” Pieces such as “Cape Cod Morning” (see pg. 20), “Ryder’s House,” and “House with a Rain Barrel,” speak beautifully to Hopper’s mastery of light.

A friend of the current owners of Hopper’s Truro home, Koch has the unique opportunity to spend time in the artist’s former studio, even paint on his easel. Recalling the moment several years ago when he first set foot in the room with the famous north-facing window, Koch recalls being struck by how different the room’s layout was from the way Hopper had painted it.

Hopper completed “Rooms by the Sea” from inside the studio and the piece is one of Koch’s favorites; it’s also his only source material to discern how Hopper viewed the room in his own mind’s eye. In the oil painting, which is currently on exhibit at the Yale University Art Gallery, a white wall dominates the canvas with sunlight shining on it in a trapezoidal shape; outside, the powerful sea looks like it’s about to surge into the room.

Koch says the reality of the scene—the actual view from inside the studio—is a little different. “You can’t even see the water when you’re sitting down at the easel,” he says. “The ledge covers it. The sun shines in that painting where it never really does, and he moved the door to the other side of the room.”

After seeing Hopper’s studio, Koch began to notice many of the liberties the artist had taken with certain details in scenes he had painted—and that he could do the same thing in his own paintings, reassembling pieces in a way, he says, “that lets them talk to each other.”

“Hopper combined different perspectives of the same place,” Koch says, “because he needed a very special combination of ingredients to sound the right note. He lied about the little things in order to tell the truth about the big things.” According to Koch, Hopper’s larger “truths” are what make his work so resonant with people who live on, visit and love Cape Cod. With the help of creative compositing, Hopper set out to capture the essence of the places he painted, rather than their exact likenesses. As the landscape and the architecture of the Cape changes more and more each year, those who love this area appreciate the artistic “time capsules” Hopper left behind.

Sternaimolo says it is Hopper’s little lies that have made his job a little harder . . . and a lot of fun. While studying photography at Fitchburg State College, Sternaimolo took on a large senior project: finding the places Hopper had painted on the Cape, in New York and throughout New England, and photographing those areas. He worked on the project for three years and succeeded in locating more than 200 of Hopper’s scenes. He was aided in his search by locals he met in his travels and by journals kept by Hopper’s wife, Jo.

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