Tuesday, November 18, 2014


An Artistic Friendship:A Reflection and A Tribute
                                             For Davyd Whaley

Davyd and I had a proverbial "May-December" friendship...a much younger man and a much older woman.Ostensibly, a rather "odd" blending of divergent personalities and stages of life...our friendship grew gradually out of our shared love for art and artists, painting and sculpture, and the museums we both loved so much to visit.

Davyd would be driving down Wilshire Boulevard
in Los Angeles and see a flag flying promoting,for instance, the David Smith sculpture show at LACMA, and he'd give me a call and we would meet up at the museum,and joyously spend the afternoon enjoying the lastest LACMA exhibit.

The first time we met up at LACMA, we decided to have lunch at the more "poshy" restaurant there...Ray's.Neither Davyd nor I were really "foodies", and laughed about some of the menu items we were both afraid to order for fear they might be something way too "exotic" for our much simpler "haute cuisine" tastes.One menu item of the day,"ramps", baffled us both, and long afterwards
we would tease each other about watching out for the "ramps" if they ever showed up again on a menu.Davyd's response to the hysterical menu items, including the "ramps",was: "You've got to be kidding!...you can keep the "ramps"...I'll just have a hamburger!"

But I get ahead of myself...Davyd and I first met on a street corner in Los Angeles on Alameda just off of the freeway where he and our mutual friend,artist Andy Berg who was in town from Colorado visiting Davyd,had driven from Davyd's studio to guide me (hopelessly lost) back to Davyd's new digs...his expansive,sun-filled "loft" studio at the Santa Fe Art Colony.That day was one of the best days of my life...the first day I met Davyd, and our artistic friendship began.

On that first day, the three of us, Davyd,Andy and I, first went over to the home of the "French Dip Sandwich" in L.A...Philippe's and ate lunch.We then went over to the nearby Brewery Art Colony where another of Davyd's vast array of friends,artist Magda Audifred has her studio.Davyd and I wandered around Magda's studio together looking at all of Magda's fabulous, multi-colored,multi-cultural works with a distinctly Mexican flavor and ethos...Davyd immediately honed in on one of Magda's smaller paintings hanging on the wall...Bulls Don't Fight.And before we left Magda's that day, he had purchased it.

The "Bulls Don't Fight" painting, I came to know about Davyd, was a lot like him...counterintuitive to one's conditioned,societal expectations about "how" someone should be in the world because of stereotypical thinking that limits others' creative and imaginative possibilities.Davyd was his own glorious unlimited and unfettered self...always full of the boundless blessing of a unique creative energy and artistic consciousness...both of which created a special "bonding" with all of those who knew Davyd, and who were drawn into his paintings with a sense of awe and wonderment at what he,and his chromatic dreams, magnificently created.

Over the course of the next several years, Davyd and I would meet up for lunch and visit art shows and museum exhibits together in Los Angeles and Pasadena.One year, after we got to know each other, we visited the annual Los Angeles Art Fair, and Davyd with his limitless curiosity and inquisitiveness  would stop and converse so knowledgeably with the gallery representatives about all facets of the art on display...it was an adventure just to listen to and observe Davyd in his true artistic element.This visit to the L.A. Art Fair, I now see looking back on it, was also a foreshadowing of things to come for Davyd.As just a few short years later...Davyd had achieved great success with his own work, and his paintings were exhibited at this same L.A. Art Fair with his own gallery representative from Galerie Michael in Beverly Hills.Davyd was so exhilarated that his paintings were hung by Galerie Michael at the Art Fair adjacent to a beautiful floral painting by Claude Monet.Monet was Davyd's "larger than life" all-time artistic "hero".Seeing his own paintings hung near those of his artist hero,Claude Monet, brought Davyd enormous pleasure and happiness.

There were so many other "art days" with Davyd that will always remain some of "the best" and happiest days of my own life.Gradually, I learned certain "personal" things about Davyd's life that were heartbreaking in the effect they must have had on his psychological well-being and health.Davyd had some very difficult psychic burdens to bear in his life, and the wonder is that he was able to rise above so many of these psychic wounds and challenges throughout his life,and eventually create a life for himself of magnificent creativity. Davyd's wondrous creativity manifested itself both in the enormous body of brilliant artistic work he accomplished over a relatively short period of time in his later life, and in his personal relationships,both with the love of his life,Norman Buckley, and in his myriad and diverse friendships that I feel so blessed included me.And even beyond these remarkable accomplishments in his life,Davyd found ways to give so much to others in his service as a volunteer art teacher for the less fortunate who found hope and beauty in their lives because of Davyd's selflessness and generosity towards them.

Davyd was such a kind-hearted and giving being.I remember one afternoon we were walking down the street in Pasadena on our way to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory before going over to the Pasadena Museum of California Art to see the great Sam Francis retrospective there.A rather dirty-looking Rasta man in a long,brown robe with dreadlocks was panhandling on the sidewalk, and came up to Davyd and I. I,for my part, was rather annoyed at the man's encroachment on our space, but Davyd, in characteristic fashion, reached into his pocket, pulled out some folded-up bills, and handed them to the scruffy guy...who looked totally surprised at Davyd's kindness, and walked away with a delighted smile on his face.

Rather like Orpheus looking back and losing sight of Eurydice for the last time, I wish with all my heart that I could reach out and grasp Davyd...and pull him back...for just one more,as he tweeted me nine days before he took his own life, "museum date".

As Norman Maclean so beautifully expressed in his novella, A River Runs Through It:

                     So it is that we can seldom help
                     anybody.Either we don't know what
                     part to give or maybe we don't like 
                     to give any part of ourselves.Then,
                     more often than not, the part that
                     is needed is not wanted.And even
                     more often, we do not have the 
                     part that is needed.

And so it is that we come to the heartrending 
realization that those we love and should know,elude us.But even so, even without the grace of complete understanding of those we love, we can love them completely, and we can take comfort in knowing that eventually, all things merge...all things merge into one, perfect consciousness.And what is lost outwardly,we can and must regain...inwardly.

For Davyd...was beautiful.

                    Davyd.....always looking up.....




Wednesday, February 26, 2014

        Death, Rebirth and Re-Creation In
   Davyd Whaley's "Subconscious Tendencies"

All change and metamorphosis are a kind of death and rebirth, a re-creation of the new life as the old one must, in some sense, die. Contemporary artist Davyd Whaley's evolution as a painter has sprung from a very real "change and metamorphosis" in his actual life as he relates having experienced some years ago a life-changing "coma" and temporary "loss of consciousness" due to a grand mal seizure. When he reawakened from his "loss of consciousness", he realized he needed to become a deeper, more "subconscious" being and painter.  

Out of his reawakening...over the course of several years now...has emerged  a rich, and ever-growing fertile field of highly personal,
"site specific" archetypal imagery,
connections and emotional resonances which bring forth, for all who experience his "explosive" regenerative paintings...the Jungian "collective unconscious".

Especially in Davyd's more recent New Orleans paintings, we can share in his "archetypal" subconscious experiences which become all of our waking experiences as wounded,healing and healed human beings.

Davyd Whaley in his ArtEgg Studio in New Orleans (photo credit,Norman Buckley)

Davyd spent several months at the end of year 2013 painting in a studio at the ArtEgg Studios complex,a former produce warehouse, in the MidCity area of New Orleans. The unique blending of traditional Catholic imagery and symbolism found even in one of the most transgressive areas of New Orleans...the French Quarter...with the more arcane and profane "mysteries" of voodoo, Tarot and black juju...ignited a virtual "fire-storm" of creativity in Davyd.

Davyd Whaley walking through the French Quarter in New Orleans (photo credit,                                        Norman Buckley)

Out of his sojourn through the French Quarter and the environs of New Orleans, Davyd's paintings became a "letting go" of old restrictive memories of his past as a child in a Tennessee Catholic school uniform, but, paradoxically, at the same time his paintings  became an "embracing" of subconscious and dream images from his Catholic school training. These Jungian subliminal images expressed for him, ultimately, the transformative,protective and sustaining power of unconditional love and grace...both divine and human.Davyd is,above all else,a survivor who is securely anchored,as a human being and as an artist, in the deep, profound reservoir of the subconscious. 

On February 22, 2014  Davyd Whaley's new solo painting exhibition, Subconscious Tendencies, opened at Galerie Michael on Via Rodeo in Beverly Hills. It is one of the richest, most spiritually exploratory and uplifting painting exhibits one could possibly experience...certainly as artistically "meditative" as anything "occurring" in a Mark Rothko chapel!

There are reoccurring archetypal images and themes throughout many of the paintings in this exhibit, especially in those Davyd created while in his New Orleans NewEgg studio(a prescient locus for his newest work).Even a dark-skinned variation on a "hanged man" archetype appears in one large gloriously ironic canvas, Color Is Your Only Weapon.This black-brown-white image suggests some rather horrifying resonances of Southern lynchings, and a much darker history paralleling, perhaps in some ways, that of the Catholic Inquisition.But Whaley's "hanged man" archetype,  also brings forth a bright cacophony of colorful diversity,and the extending of his "hanged" black hand offering the rich promise of new life and rebirth in a myriad authentic multi-racial and multi-cultural identity which has emerged from horrendous individual sacrifice. New Orleans itself is certainly all of that...and more!

  Davyd Whaley,Color Is Your Only Weapon,                      2014, oil on canvas

An initial glimpse into the stages of  Davyd's process of spiritual and artistic rejuvenation from the state perhaps of a "lapsed Catholic" to his re-creation of self in a state of equilibrium and grace...begins with the large self-portrait in this exhibition titled, Boy in Uniform (24x36 inches). 
It is a darkly painted,almost bruised, rendering of a six year old boy whose face is predominantly blackened with a sense of supreme gloom and sadness.There is no gladness or joy expressed in his frozen eerie stare...he has a sore on his lower lip...and his right "cauliflower" ear is "deformed" as if metaphorically signifying that some kind of repetitive physical, psychological and/or spiritual "damaging" has taken place.The overall impression of this portrait is as if physical and "spiritual" rigor mortis has already begun in the body and soul of this strangely dark little boy. 

The background of this portrait is blood red suggesting that this young boy is metaphorically enveloped in psychological and spiritual wounding and bleeding.In some sense, it is a rather scary portrait of a male child who is counter indicative of all the stereotypical platitudes about the innocence and carefree joys of childhood.This is a painting that elicits deep sadness and empathy in the viewer for this young boy.Clearly, this child is not a "poster boy" for the benefits of a Catholic school education and upbringing.

      Davyd Whaley, Boy in Uniform,2013,
            oil on linen,24x36 inches

Davyd's very dark portrait of a younger "wounded" little boy is physically "paired" on the gallery wall with a much larger (72x129 inches), bloody(actually and metaphorically) and visually explosive canvas titled, Sacred Heart. The very physically powerful impact of this phantasmagorically "red" painting is even heightened by the realization that actual "genus unspecified" blood was used on this painting. The descriptive information next to Sacred Heart doesn't explain exactly what kind of blood was used or exactly how it was used: mixed with painting medium (oil and enamel), as a unique medium in and of itself, or splashed or dripped on the Arches paper...but the surface of this painting, to be sure, bleeds!

      Davyd Whaley, Sacred Heart, 2013, oil, enamel, mixed media and blood, painted on
Arches paper, 72x129 inches

Contemplating this painting's bloody explosion across the canvas, we come to an intuitive understanding of this painting's remarkable "break-through" fusion of the Catholic historical, theological and spiritual Hearts: the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Davyd's spiritual transformation in his Sacred Heart painting seems to radiate from the Virgin Mary's aura or radiant "nimbus" in the vintage print he has attached to the top of the very large sheet of paper. He tells us that he found this print from the 1800's "Sacred Heart" in an antique shop in the Garden District of New Orleans. One can certainly speculate that the Virgin Mary's sacred "aura" of light, her radiance, drew him to this print even before he manifested its presence in his Sacred Heart painting. Even if you are not a "practicing" Catholic, the spiritual and physical "protection" extended to each of us through Mary's radiant unconditional love for her son, Jesus, and through him for all mankind is palpable in Davyd's transfigurative painting. 

It is the transformative power of divine light and grace and the spiritual protection of Mary's unconditional love for Davyd as a kind of archetypal "Everyman and Everywoman" that radiates from and through this painting's bloody splotches. Ultimately, the Sacred Heart painting conveys to each viewer a sense of potential "grace" suffusing every wounded and suffering soul, as well as suffusing the painter's wounded soul with grace and protection.  

But it is Davyd's painting, Fertile Instinct, that is the quintessential visual hymn to the primitive Subconscious and which forms the ultimate Jungian "altarpiece" of this compelling exhibition.

      Davyd Whaley, Fertile Instinct, 2013,               mixed media on canvas

In this complex, predominantly "red" composition, Davyd's primal altar is surmounted by several rather nightmarish creatures of the subliminal underworld.The one on the top left of the canvas is a totally "right-brained"(signifying pure subconscious creativity)head with a chunk of its left-brain(signifying conscious reasoning) totally gone.On the top right of the canvas is a somewhat skeletal,deathly satanic being wielding a raised spear ready to defend or attack.The canvas is intersected midway on the right side by an almost African-like "totem" piece with stylized human features laying sideways into the painting.

And as appropriate to an altar to instinctive munificence, there is a "predella" at the base of the painting depicting an animal "totem", an animalistic muse which could be a primitive wolf-like creature on a prehistoric cave.

Davyd's Fertile Instinct painting is the ultimate "storehouse" of the human mind's instinctive experiences which can be retrieved when needed to defend itself for survival. And it is the survival instinct that propel's Davyd Whaley throughout his re-creation of his inner and outer imagistic life through his bountiful paintings.

Davyd's Jungian transformation and rebirth as a "subconscious" human being and as an artist of the subconscious are like the metamorphosis of the butterfly in his gorgeous and joyous yellow mixed media painting,Butterfly .And like the Butterfly painting, his "subconscious" rebirth is replete with infinite color,beauty and emotional resonance.

Davyd Whaley, Butterfly, 2013, mixed media
                      on canvas

For Davyd Whaley, as for the renowned anthropologist, Margaret Mead whose dream experience once revealed to her the meaning of life...Davyd's "Subconscious Tendencies" are his life...and that is wonder enough.

Artist Davyd Whaley and The Whistling Girl(Kathleen Fennessy) at the Subconscious Tendencies exhibition,Galerie Michael, Beverly Hills, 2/22/14

Davyd Whaley's solo exhibition...Subconscious Tendencies....opened February 22, 2014 at 
Galerie Michael, 224 N. Rodeo Drive, 
Beverly Hills, California



Saturday, June 29, 2013

                        Idling on La Grand Jatte

Georges Seurat's pointillist masterpiece...A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884-86) feels like a Fourth of July painting in its expression 
of communal relaxation and enjoyment...almost a complete suspension of motion and purposeful activity.

Seurat was experimenting with a new technique based on modern scientific color theories that would "mix the colors" in the viewer's eye rather than on his palette.He depicts literally dozens of Parisians and their dogs, and even one fashionably dressed woman with her Capuchin monkey on a leash.Some have suggested the monkey was symbolic of licentiousness...and the woman was,in fact, a prostitute.In any case, Seurat gives us multiple figures,mostly in profile,from various classes,genders,ages and presumably "occupations" on a day of rest.

There are,speculatively, several prostitutes,who were frequent visitors on La Grand Jatte looking for male customers,in Seurat's painting...most strikingly,and rather oddly,the woman fishing on the bank of the Seine...presumably "fishing" for a customer among the various and sundry men gathered along the bank of the Seine.

Influenced by ancient Egyptian art which he sketched in the Louvre, Seurat uses mainly profiles of figures to create a sense of motionless disengagement...strangely...no one seems to be talking or interacting with one another...they are,as it were,"frozen" in time and ennui...one young girl in the center of the painting is contemplating a small bouquet of flowers,while to the left of her is a bizarre  tableau of a hulking oarsman in a sleeveless shirt smoking a pipe surrounded by a  properly attired woman working on needlework,and a dandy in a top hat with a spindly-looking walking stick.

Overall, La Grand Jatte is in suspended animation...a very static, frozen moment in time...but, in contrast to this feeling of suspension, is Seurat's minor-key counterpoint of time moving on and exuberant motion in the figure of the little running girl in the background, and the small running dog in the foreground of the painting.Moreover,to create a sense of fresh reawakening...Seurat painted in six delicate, fluttering butterflies.

And his artistic "sidebar" in La Grande Jatte is, of course, the river Seine itself.Like the social milieu on the bank of river,the river reflects the changing modernist Parisian society.There are not only the pastimes of the wealthy...rowing and sailboating...on the river,but also the encroaching modern world of the steamboat.And since Seurat depicts a Sunday on La Grande Jatte,the steamboats going up and down the Seine were most likely the sights-seeing steamers or Bateau Mouche which were a great success.

To enhance the sense of a moment frozen in time on La Grande Jatte...Seurat,quite unusally, painted his own pointillist "freeze frame" around his painting to heighten its chromatic effectiveness.The painting was then conventionally framed in a simple white wooden frame for exhibition in the last Impressionist exhibition of 1886.That's also how the painting is exhibited today at The Art Institute of Chicago. 

All in all... La Grand Jatte is not only a beautiful depiction of a carefree summer day  or holiday...but also a highly individualistic and unique contribution to the oeuvre of the late 19th century in Paris.Seurat remarked that "I painted like that because I wanted to get through to something new - a kind of painting that was my own"...although only 29,with only two more years to live,Seurat succeeded so beautifully with his La Grande Jatte.




Friday, April 26, 2013

           Edward Hopper At the Movies
            [Scenes Without Scenarios]


Edward Hopper...perhaps twentieth-century America's most uniquely urban and desolate realist...wasn't a sociable man...even his wife, Jo, said so. She said when she
tried to introduce "Eddie" to her friends,
he just wouldn't "make nice", and he simply had no interest in meeting and interacting with "new" people.

Edward's real passions in life were painting and reading(especially Ralph Waldo Emerson)...two of the most "unsociable" activities known to humankind. As Hopper's much younger fellow-realist artist, Andrew Wyeth, remarked..."I would never let anybody watch me painting...it would be like somebody watching you have sex - painting is that personal to me".Painting was that "personal" to Edward Hopper,too.And he took painting... this most unsociable of personal engagements...very seriously throughout his entire artistic oeuvre.
He also told those who persistently asked (like art critics and reviewers) that everything there was to know about him was in his paintings..."The whole answer is there on the canvas".Once even when he was asked by an interviewer what he was after in one of his starkest paintings,he simply answered,"I'm after me".

However, Hopper did give us one simply
written "Statement" about his approach to his painting in 1953 when he submitted a "handwritten note" to the journal, Reality. His remarks provide telling insight into his artistic "modus operandi":

             Great art is the outward 
             expression of an inner life
             in the artist, and this inner
             life will result in his personal
             vision of the world. No amount
             of skillful invention can replace
             the essential element of 
             imagination. One of the weak-
             nesses of much abstract 
             painting is the attempt to 
             substitute the inventions of
             the human intellect for a 
             private imaginative conception.

              The inner life of a human
              being is a vast and varied
              realm and does not concern
              itself alone with stimulating
              arrangements of color, form
              and design.

Even earlier in 1939, Hopper revealed
a deeper "way into"much of his highly personal,  individualized,and characteristically "unsociable" paintings..."So much of 
every art is an expression of the subconscious that it seems to me most of all the important qualities are put there unconsciously, and little of importance by the conscious intellect". 

As unsociable and "uncommunicative"
to strangers as Edward Hopper was throughout his life, he also loved going to "the movies". He once said:"When I don't feel in the mood for painting, I go to the movies for a week or more. I go on a regular movie binge!"Hopper, we can imagine, was "a solitary figure" in the movie theater... just "looking"...probably without any social interaction with "the others" in the theater.

An early grisaille painting of Hopper's done when he was in his early twenties and evolving his painting style and thematics..."Solitary Figure in a Theatre",c.1903...already captures much of Hopper's later cinematic painting scenes of lone figures "looking"...looking in and looking out...reading,engaged in inner ruminations,looking out windows in hotel rooms,offices and trains...all existentially isolated in their own introspection, and engaged in "transcendental silence". 

Edward Hopper,Solitary Figure in a Theatre,c.1902-4,oil on board,Whitney Museum of American Art,New York

This smallish monochromatic oil painting "on board" may just be Hopper's first visual "meditation" on the engrossing introspective silence of the early "black and white" silent movies of the time...the first full-length movie with integrated sound did not appear until 1927.Also,as Antonia Lant notes in her essay,"The Film Crowd",Moving Pictures American Art and Early Film 1880-1910,Hopper as an artist was undoubtedly "drawn to the dawn of cinema for its intrigue of a new sensory culture".
Later in the 1930s,Hopper became fascinated with "film noir",and he was influenced by its cinematography and the most essential aspect of filmmaking..."the frame".In addition to "framing",his paintings and cinematic approach to them,share many formal dimensions with film noir such as lighting,the play of light and shadow,color saturation,tonal texture,scale,angles of view and vision and...preeminently...the human form and figure.

Edward Hopper,The Balcony,or The Movies,1928 (Drypoint etching,13x17 inches)Whitney Museum of American Art,New York

Diane Arbus,photograph,In The Balcony Empire Theater,42nd Street,New York City, 1958

It is revealing to contrast Edward Hopper's early "film noir" focus in his etching,The Balcony, on the introspective woman on the right with her hand on the side of her face,and on the nuanced play of light and shadow,especially on the light coming from the three-pronged light sconce across from this woman,and on the "high-angle,mildly vertiginous" perspective from the uppermost gallery ... with the much later photographer Diane Arbus's In The Balcony Empire Theater,42nd Street,New York City, 1958.Arbus's Balcony photograph creates an entirely different "communal" focus,with a very different lighting,angle of vision and sense of the goings-on of the"hoi polloi"...of the activity of "the boys" in the balcony.

Already in Hopper's 1928 drypoint,The Balcony,rather than a sense of the crowd's "energy and activity" in the movie theater,Hopper  again captures a solitary individual in a "brooding and silent interior" which conveys a "sense of being sealed off from the outside world".All of Hopper's interior movie theaters are "hushed realms...closer to museums or libraries" than to places filled with speech,music and sounds.

An artist contemporary with Hopper,and who Hopper admired, and even wrote about,and who also studied with Hopper's greatly admired painting teacher,Robert Henri... was John French Sloan.Robert Henri and John Sloan were both major figures among the so-called Ashcan school of realist artists.And Sloan,like Hopper,both of whom Henri advised as students at the New York School of Art, to "go to the theater",was drawn to the early silent "black and white" movies. But Sloan depicted in his 1907 oil painting,Movies,Five Cents, a markedly different movie theater "interior" from those characteristically "suspended moments" captured in Hopper's "silent theatrum mundi" paintings.

   John Sloan,Movies,Five Cents, 
                 oil on canvas,1907
In Sloan's painting,Movies,Five Cents, we see a "new urban phenomenon" and space...the cheap nickelodeon, or as one writer called it, "the nickel dump".
Sloan's emphasis in his movie theater painting is on the "unruly miscellany" of the audience in a cheap Greenwich Village venue...a democratic,integrated,diverse audience of moviegoers consisting of a range of classes,genders and races.

Sloan's movie theater is a small,crowded,warm,physically intimate communal "site of sociality", and of implicit eroticism and titilating sexuality...both on,and off,the movie screen.It is a place of shared pleasurable experience,and shared escape into the romantic idyll on the movie screen.

Sloan focuses on the individual activity and responses of the audience members...in the lower half of the painting we see a man slumped over asleep,possibly intoxicated, next to him is a young black woman in a funky hat clasping her chest as if experiencing a cinematic frisson brought on by the  bench kissing scene on the movie screen,in front of them are two women in elegant hats...one immersed in the black-and-white kissing scene, the other turned away from the screen,perhaps looking in amusement at the slumped over man behind her,or at us...the viewers of the painting,a man and another  woman wearing an extravagantly plumed hat enter the theater on the right side of the painting "in media res" to be seated...in the early days of silent movies,moviegoers could enter into the movie theater at any time during the movie...hence the origin of the expression,"this is where I came in"!

Sloan's painting is a humorous,almost Hogarthian satirical depiction of the "human comedy" in all its faux finery and gaudy splendor, enjoying "cheap thrills" in the dark.His painting,Movies, Five Cents, is a far cry from the "suspended introspective" movie theater interior found in Edward Hopper's greatest movie theater painting,New York Movie.

Leading up to Hopper's 1939 "magnum opus" movie theater painting,New York Movie, were his two other impressive movie theater paintings:The Circle Theatre completed in 1936, and The Sheridan Theatre completed in 1937.

Edward Hopper,The Circle Theatre,                                                                                                    
     oil on canvas,27x36 in.,1936

Hopper's 1936 exterior painting of The Circle Theatre is almost like a sharper,less fluid 1960s Richard Diebenkorn abstracted architectural "cityscape"...while the "theater is the nominal subject of the painting and its central presence,...it is incorporated into an ensemble of forms" and muted colors punctuated by the bright red stop light on the lower right side of the painting.

Richard Diebenkorn,Cityscape I,1963,
                oil on canvas
As so often in Hopper's paintings,we are as observers of the painting...looking and seeing,but ultimately our vision is frustrated.In  The Circle Theatre,our vision into the theatre entrance is "blocked" by a solid black subway kiosk,and the dark lobby doors suggest that the theater is not open for business.Hopper has chosen a subject, The Circle Theatre, which he does not let us fully and satisfyingly "see".

Rather than all of the "energy and activity" the artist, John Sloan associates with "the social role of moviegoing and movie theaters in modern urban life", Edward Hopper depicts a deserted,immobilized,and almost dehumanized surrogate urban "church without a congregation".

"Minimally" foreshadowing his most complex and powerful movie theater painting,New York Movie,Hopper places one lone,diminutive, solitary female figure standing static and immobilized on the sidewalk in front of an ornate theater marquee...is she lost in her own personal reverie about the movie currently showing at The Circle Theatre...is she passing time waiting for someone to join her...is she too broke to even buy a ticket when the theatre opens?

The bright white and soft blue sky above the The Circle Theatre suggest that it is early morning(a favorite time of day for Hopper) before the Theatre, and the Drugs and Soda shop, and other shops next to the theater have opened for business.

Hopper's solitary "early morning" woman stopped before the movie theater marquee also evokes this passage from a poem,Morning Sea, by the Greek modernist poet of Alexandria,Constantine P. Cavafy:

                Here let me stop.Let me
                pretend that these are what
                I see (I really saw them for a      
               moment when I first stopped)
                instead of seeing, even here, 
                my fantasies, my
                recollections, the icons of

Typically, in The Circle Theatre, a quintessential Hopper painting,as in so many others by Hopper,there is no explicit narrative...but there is an enormous emotional and imaginative suggestion of a "hidden story".

By the 1930s, especially in New York City, there was a thriving American movie culture, and to satisfy the throngs of moviegoers who went to the movies every week,there were,in addition to the cheap,small and cramped nickelodeon venues, numerous spacious, exotic, ornate "palaces of cinematic pleasure" like the Sheridan Theatre in Greenwich Village.The Sheridan Theatre on West 12th Street,just blocks from Hopper's studio apartment at 3 Washington Square North, epitomized the luxurious movie palace of the early twentieth century.

This "temple of the cinema art" was "a neighborhood theatre with a metropolitan, cosmopolitan and suburban patronage" that attracted all classes of people.

The Exhibitors Trade Review observed that the "the Sheridan's Sunday audiences embrace the commuter from Morristown, New Jersey, the Bronxvillan, the Harlemite and the downtowner; the artist, the collector, the fancier, in his limousine, the folk of the stage, idle on the Sabbath, and the worker from lower New York".

 Edward Hopper, The Sheridan Theatre,
              1937,oil on canvas
Hopper had a meticulous preparatory process for his paintings, and his 1937 painting, The Sheridan Theatre, was no exception. He made eleven drawings for this painting using his wife and fellow artist, Josephine (Jo) Nivison Hopper as a model for the primary female figure in his painting.These drawings clearly show how Hopper's initial ideas for this painting evolved:the most important female figure starting off as a skinny flapper wearing a long coat and cloche hat.

Hopper creates in his painting of The Sheridan movie palace,which he frequented with his wife, a Piranesian layered view of the swooping, curving balcony and the ornate lighting fixtures(one writer calls "weird glowing excrescences") and ornate railing.

Resting with her arms leaning on the top of the ornate railing, stands a Rubenesque blonde woman with chunky hips in a red skirt(red usually indicative of sexual energy in Hopper).She is standing in a rather languorous pose with her left knee bent forward and her breast resting against the top portion of the railing.She is wearing what appears to be a black fur collar and a matching large black fur hat which tilts forward.Her head and hat are illuminated by an upsweeping pillar of light giving her head a "radiant aura".It's as if Hopper has given us a transcendental vision of a  "Madonna" of the cinematic dark...with his alluring,"world of the flesh" interior in  his surrogate "church"...the modern day movie palace of pleasure.

Hopper visually creates in The Sheridan Theatre a sense of exotic strangeness and mystery, as well as a sense of suspended animation,sublime stillness and quietude,and social isolation. This is a sybaritic church conspicuous by its lack of a communal congregation,and a lack of social activity and interaction.Hopper himself, it seems, found "the shadowy darkness of a movie theater a revitalizing reprieve from the social demands of life in the crowded metropolis".

The sanctuaries and meditative spaces that Hopper found in the Greenwich Village and downtown movie palaces which he frequented were fertile realms of imaginative and creative inspiration for him. And his many visits to these New York City movie palaces, especially to the Palace Theater in Times Square,over a period of several months in late 1938 slowly evolved through 53 preparatory sketches and studies into the greatest cinema interior ever painted...his New York Movie.

He sketched the foyers, stairways and auditoriums of his favorite movie palaces, and he sketched his wife,Jo, in various poses standing under a lamp in the hall of their Greenwich Village apartment, and finally in January, 1939 Hopper completed his most complex and powerful cinematic painting.

Edward Hopper, New York Movie,1939
 oil on canvas,Museum of Modern Art,
 New York City

New York Movie is Hopper's most "cinematic" of his movie theater compositions, and its structure uses an emotionally evocative dual "montage"
effect which juxtaposes a close-up on the right side of the painting with a shot into deep space on the left side of the painting.

Hopper establishes a complex interrelationship between the two contrasting sides of the painting with the ornate orange lighting of the darkened theater interior on the left, and the orange lighting of the three-pronged sconce over the head of the female usherette on the right.

Hopper also creates a powerfully resonant emotional duality in his New York Movie montage between the two isolated figures sitting in two different rows in the darkened theater who are looking at and engrossed by the unreal reality of the blurry gray-and-white, barely visible movie image,escaping into the fantasy world of the movie, and the absorptive ,personal immersion of the attractive blonde usherette who is lost in her own personal reverie and fantasy.

As is often the case in Hopper's interior paintings with female figures in them, the slender,young,attractive usherette exudes a certain latent sexuality especially in her sexy,strappy black high heels and red-striped pants.This rather slinky-looking young woman resting against the wall under the orange light of the three-pronged sconce, and absorbed in her own inner thoughts, and perhaps even fantasies, disinterested and detached from the two figures and the movie fantasy inside the darkened theater, embodies
the "erotico-metaphysics" of desire which is both the effect of movies and of  
paintings(Leonard Michaels,"The Nothing That Is Not There").Leonard Michaels in his wildly imaginative interpretation of New York Movie,sees Hopper's painting as an exploration of "the relation between desire and what isn't there".

Hopper's "magnum opus", New York Movie, as so many other of his paintings, evokes myriad interpretations because he never gives us,the viewers, a narrative resolution in his scenes.Movie director, Sam Mendes(American Beauty) is one of the many moviemakers including Hitchcock, Terrence Malick, and Wim Wenders,who have found poetic and cinematic inspiration in Hopper's paintings.

Mendes finds New York Movie especially evocative because of Hopper's skillful lighting of his scene. He says the "fact that her face is partially obscured creates a sense of loneliness and desolation.You begin to invent your own story from the imagination in the world of the painting".

Viewers of New York Movie are inspired to imagine what the usherette is thinking or feeling..."compositionally, Hopper constantly ensures that your imaginary eye is guided off the frame of the picture"(Mendes).

Artistically, Edward Hopper stands alone among American artists of the 20th- century as a bold individualist..he reflectively said of himself, "I probably am a lonely one".

He died in his Greenwich Village studio on May 15, 1967..."a solitary figure" in American art with an unwavering, independent vision of the isolated introspection of the human soul.      


 Edward Hopper in Robert Henri's Life Drawing class at the New York School 
of Art, 1903-4

Edward Hopper in his Greenwich Village studio,1938 during the time he was painting his series of movie theater paintings.

    Edward Hopper, Studies for New York Movie, 1938 or 1939, chalk on paper,Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Edward Hopper at his home in Truro,Cape Cod towards the end of his life,in his early eighties,his wife,Jo,is in the background - as she was in life.

For Further Reading:

1.Silent Theater: The Art of Edward Hopper,Walter Wells, the definitive monograph.

2.On the Edge of Your Seat,Popular Theater and Film in Early Twentieth-Century American Art,Patricia McDonnell.

3.Moving Pictures,American Art and Early Film 1880-1910, Nancy Mowll Mathews.

4.Edward Hopper and the American Imagination,Deborah Lyons,et all,editors.              

5.Edward Hopper THE ART AND THE ARTIST,Gail Levin,Whitney Museum of American Art,1980.