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Finding poetry in the commonplace


Artwork by Vanessa Liu

There are a few locations Hopper painted that Sternaimolo could not find. “There are two possibilities for those,” he says. “One is that those places don’t exist anymore; the other is that they never existed in the first place.” Sternaimolo likes the second theory better. He recalls the first time he discovered one of Hopper’s major “compositional lies.” He was on a drive—one that Hopper took frequently between Cape Cod and his home in Nyack, New York—and he passed a gas station with pumps he recognized from Hopper’s 1940 painting, “Gas.” In the painting, the gas pumps and the landscape are from a Cape Cod location, but Sternaimolo guesses that a building in the painting was from somewhere else, possibly New York. He gathers that Hopper merged the two locations in his mind, producing a representation of his own truth.

Wellfleet resident Lisbeth Chapman shows visitors how Hopper assembled these “truths” on guided tours of what she calls “Hopper’s Places” on the Outer Cape. Chapman’s two-hour tour brings visitors around Truro and Wellfleet, beginning and ending at the Wellfleet Town Pier, with stops at 30 locations that Hopper painted.

Chapman confesses that in leading these tours she is doing “exactly what Hopper didn’t want done”: she is explaining the differences between the way things were and the way they are today, both in the paintings and the landscape. “He didn’t want people comparing,” she says, adding that the artist’s conglomerate wholes are more than the sum of their parts. “It’s enlightening and fun though,” she says, “for artists and for people who are just curious.”

Had Hopper painted scenes exactly as he saw them, projects like Sternaimolo’s would likely be easier, but the work may not have the same life, the same resonance. “He had a way of finding rare angles,” Sternaimolo says, “and his tweaking made for stronger statements.”

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