Ángel Mateo Charris, Gonzalo Sicre Maqueda, and the Hopperesque.


Levin, Gail

Ninety percent of all artists are forgotten ten minutes after they are dead, Edward Hopper once remarked with his typical terse cynicism. History has proven him wrong, of course, many times over, most recently via the newest of new media from a land where Hopper´s fame had not reached before: via e-mail from Spain Angel Mateo Charris and Gonzalo Sicre Maqueda wrote of Hopper´s impact on their painting. Nor content merely to admire reproductions of Hopper's works, Charris and Sicre had actually traveled to America to see his painting and where he painted them. Sensing a strong parallel between their own Cabo de Palos and Hopper's Cape Cod, they chose to explore this coincidence, visiting South Truro, Massachusetts, where, from 1930 until just before his death in 1967, Hopper spent really half of every year. There they could imbibe the same salt air, luxuriate in the same intense light, and paint their own responses to the rustic architecture and rolling landscape that both captivate and frustrated Hopper.

Charris and Sicre took their self-appointed task quite seriously. Only after viewing the 1995 retrospective exhibition of Hopper paintings at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, did they set off for Cape Cod, armed with color reproductions of the painting and a copy of my book, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, which was then hot off the press. Making their way out along the Cape toward Truro, they came first to Eastham, which was the farthest point south from Truro that Hopper painted. Here Charris painted Intimate Biography, in which depicts himself and Sicre, conscientiously reading the biography aloud to one another, at night in their motel room, which is harshly illuminated by a table lamp and decorated only by a small framed map of the Cape. The nocturnal scene with its artificial light and the couple reading by a window are. Hopperesque motifs that underline the punning title, which relates the intimacy of this pair of painters to that of Edwards and Jo Hopper, also both painters who also often read together during the long evenings on the Cape.

Puns and humorous mixing of New England stereotypes and Hopperesque images punctuate several of Charris's other pictures. A typical Cape inn becomes Hopper Motel, where the fictive sign proclaims <<Hopper & co. MOTEL, >> recalling Hopper´s Rooms for Tourist, which he painted at the end of the Cape, in Provincetown in 1945. In Los Pioneros I, Charris fixed upon the Mayflower  coffee shop, recalling the ship that brought the first pilgrims, pioneers. They rejected Cape Cop and went on to settle across the bay at Plymouth. On the roof, the sign held the stereotypical cut-out figure of a New England fisherman advertises ARMORY Show NEW NOW,  in reference to the celebrated exhibition in 1913 New York. The show first introduced European modern art to a broad American public. Although abstract painting by Duchamp, Matisse, Picabia, and others generated controversy and commanded the most attention, Hopper did enter a realist painting entitled Sailing, which he managed to sell. By then he was already thirty, but this was the first canvas he ever sold and the last painting for another ten years.

Without painting any specific locales already recorded by Hopper, Sicre too evokes the Hopperesque: almost silhouetted against the sky, a lighthouse perched atop a hill; sailboats at a dock against the still blue water; long shadows; lonely, empty scenes; a solitary figure reading in a beach chair. His Aeropuerto records a rolling landscape seen through the window that recalls the view in The Camel´s Hump, which Hopper first painted in 1931 and could later see from his South Truro studio looking out over the dunes. Sicre discerningly caught the long shadows and the golden color the grass turns each autumn: some of the very reason that Hopper liked to wait until that season to get his painting done before returning to the city for the winter. Hopper also preferred the Cape emptied out of its summer crowds, a preference that Sicre has also chosen for his scenes.

Looking at the pictures made by Sicre and Charris as a result of their pilgrimage to the Cape makes me wonder what Hopper would think if he could see them. During the early 1950s, he joined a group of younger contemporary representational artists whose initial purpose was to protest the current emphasis on nonobjective painting at the Museum of Modern Art. Hopper was on the editorial board when the group published the first issue of the artists´ journal Reality in 1953. He always disdained abstract art and remained confident that realist painting would in time reassert itself. He made a point of encouraging younger representational artist with whom he came in contact.
No doubt Hopper would be reassured by the enthusiastic witty response to his work by Sicre and Charris. Their national origin would no doubt also make Hopper recall his own travels in Spain and his study of Spanish masters, especially Velazquez and Goya. It was in 1910 that he made his first and only visit to the Iberian peninsula, traveling by train from Paris, visiting Madrid and Toledo, which he described as a most wonderful old town. He remained a tourist, preferring to look at art rather than attempting to paint on his brief visit of only eleven days. Yet a bull fight that he witnessed made such an impression of horror that it resulted in an etching years later. Although he never again crossed the Atlantic, Hopper subsequently reflected: It took me ten years to get over Europe.  Indeed, when he taught himself etching in the late 1910s, he looked carefully at the work of Goya, about whom he later commented: He had strength, he had a vision

Spain itself had claimed a special place in Hopper's memory. He once observed, In Europe life is ordered; here it is disordered ; adding, with the exception of Spain, the light there is different. Those countries don´t have the clear skies and sunlight we have here.  His perception of the special quality of Spanish light concurs with the insight of Charris and Sicre about affinities between Cartagena and Truro. I have no doubt that today Hopper would feel vindicated by the attention paid his work by his growing audience, including these two Spanish painters. They contribute to the revival of realism that he confidently predicted and their allusive wit carries further a self-reflexive and allegorical vein that ran deeply if more covertly in Hopper's work, as the biography has shown.

© 1997 Gail Levin.


In the book Cape Cod / Cabo de Palos (Tras las huellas de Hopper). Blanco, Cartagena 1997.