During the long months of the Covid lockdowns, the American realist artist was most often used to illustrate articles about people isolated at home or lacking social contact. Edward Huber.
His images of people staring out of a window or sitting alone at dinner are often interpreted as depictions of loneliness. But Huber replied that solitude is not the same as loneliness. “She’s just looking out the window,” he said of one of the paintings.
Hopper himself enjoyed solitude, preferring a hermit-like existence—albeit with his wife, Josephine Nevison Huber, who is also an artist—over social gatherings. The volatile relationship between laconic Ed and Joe’s brooding and resentful is at the heart of a new documentary by British director Phil Grabsky, which opens in cinemas this month.
Hopper: An American Love Story is the latest in an acclaimed on-screen exhibition series, which examines the work and lives of great artists. The release of the film coincides with the opening of a major exhibition of Hopper paintings at the American Whitney Museum art in New York.
Grabsky said the film’s title was intentionally ambiguous. “It refers to his relationship with Joe, who has been unfairly ignored. The woman behind the man theme has come up with other artists, but it’s so true with Hopper. There’s no Edward Hopper without Joe Nevison. And I think that’s being re-evaluated.”
It also indicates his love for America, everyday life, and what’s around you. One of the interviewees [in the film] It talks about how it encourages you to look at things you might just be ignoring.”
Grabsky said Huber’s art was “very well known, but his name is less well known”. “When I said I was making a movie about Edward Hopper, there were people who said to me, ‘I don’t know who he is.’ If you show them the Nighthawks, they know it right away.”
Grabsky said that the artist’s life was an “autobiographical painting”. “His life story is told through his paintings – and you can’t understand his work without understanding who he is and who his wife was.”
The film is based on Josephine’s extensive memoir, which was transcribed many years after her death in 1968 (her husband had died 10 months earlier). In the volumes, she records the couple’s arguments, ranging from routine quarrels to acts of violence — biting, slapping, bruising — committed by both parties.
She was also his inspiration, the only archetype of his female characters – reading, lost in thought, lingering over a cup of coffee, sitting on a train, working at an office. Women have different faces and bodies but they are all derived from Josephine.
She referred to her husband’s paintings as “their children,” and worked tirelessly to find locations, negotiate with galleries, and compile detailed records of his production. “I did everything for him. She allowed her career to really wither into karma,” said Grabsky. Or, as she wrote, “If there was a place for just one of us, there was no doubt that it would be him.”
Grabsky said, “It was a very complicated relationship. I don’t think he was a very nice person but there was no doubt that she was in love with him. He controls her through his silence at times. He controls her physically because he is stronger than her. The movie doesn’t hold back from giving These examples.
In turn, Josephine refused to cook meals and refrained from having sex with her husband. “It’s hard to be completely sure of anyone’s relationships,” Grabsky said. “People will watch the movie and come to their own conclusions.”
The pace of the movie is deliberately slow. “It’s to encourage people to think about art. One of my frustrations with art on TV is that it’s usually someone standing in front of a painting, telling us what we’re seeing.”
The series “Exhibition on the Screen” has been popular with movie fans since the release of the first film about Leonardo da Vinci in 2011. In total, 31 films were produced. “When I first came up with the idea of showing art in cinemas, people thought I was crazy,” Grabsky said.
The film Hopper holds a special place in the director’s heart. “My dad was born in New York in 1929, so he was living in the city where Hopper was also living for the first 40 years of his life. And my dad passed away while making this movie. So the movie has extra resonance for me.”