Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Edward Hopper

Waiting to meet my editor last week in Foyles, I came across a book cover which stopped me in my tracks: a stunning colour portrait of one of my favourite artists. Inside Edward Hopper was a collection of poetry by Ernest Farr├ęs, published by Carcanet Press. On opposite pages was the same poem in Catalan and English, each in response to a Hopper painting.

I have been a passionate admirer of Hopper’s work for years. His iconic painting Nighthawks (1942) served as an inspiration for a chapter of my book, The Double Happiness Company. At least two other Hopper paintings have wormed their way into my fiction . . . or tried to.

When my first novel, No Angel Hotel, was accepted for publication, I desperately wanted Hopper's Hotel Room for the cover. My novel was eventually published three times by HarperCollins, Grafton Books and St Martin’s Press, but all my editors said, “yellow on a cover doesn’t sell”. I had no choice but to listen, but in my short story, “Secrets”, set in Ireland, the woman in Carolina Morning was the inspiration for the ending and I didn’t have to refer its “use” to anyone:

There is a picture of Eileen Flynn in the family album. 
        She is wearing a striped dress, a sun-hat, standing 
        in the doorway of the kitchen, five toes heavenward, 
        the chunky heel of her shoe resting on the step. The
        foreground is in shadow except for a rectangle of light 
        falling on the hem of her dress. The concrete yard is as 
        bare as the moon.

Many writers and poets have tried to interpret Hopper’s themes as stories. Take Nighthawks, for example. Joyce Carol Oates composed interior monologues for the couple sitting in the fish-bowl brightness. Erik Jendresen, author of the film, Band of Brothers, wrote a short story inspired by the painting. The German poet, Wolf Wondratschek, imagined that the Nighthawks’ couple had grown apart:

I bet she wrote him a letter
Whatever it said, hes no longer the man 
Whod read her letters twice.

His late-night diners, anonymous lobbies, lonely gas stations and empty streets are visual literature. “If you could say it in words,” Hopper once said, “there would be no reason to paint.” I, for one, am glad he was such a mysterious, prolific artist, allowing us to stand before his canvases to ponder his elliptical meanings for ourselves.

Stay tuned . . .

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