'Framed: A Journey Into Edward Hopper's America' is a road trip into art history.
A young Australian doctor, raised in America, redefines the country he grew up in by traveling America's two lane roads from coast to coast. His method: to see in person all of the work of Edward Hopper, the ever-popular and quintessentially American painter. The journey throws into stark contrast the changes to America's social fabric since Hopper's time and even since the author's childhood.
Amidst this turmoil, Hopper's portrayals of urban and rural America capture an ineffable American quality. His pictures could be of any American street, in any time. But what is that quality which makes America, America?
On a return trip to Washington during medical school, the author sees an Edward Hopper picture in person for the first time and realizes how to solve the riddle. Meeting all of his pictures, he would find in each a slightly different rendition of that American quality.
Each of these pictures has been loved by its own group of Americans, who saw in it their own idea of America, and whose stories haven't been told. Surrounding each picture would be a different corner of this diverse country which, of course, can only be understood by being seen.
Thus begins an epic journey over two years from Los Angeles to Boston, to see the largest Hopper retrospective to date, and back west to Seattle. Braving the vast expanses of America's back roads, we visit an eclectic group of museums and private collections.
We visit the forgotten, decaying cities of the Rust Belt: Utica, Buffalo, Huntington. We drive the rural backwaters of Florida's panhandle and see Amish towns nestled in the corn fields of southern Indiana. The pride of these places, their indifference to defeat, is in stark contrast to the Disney-like 'preservation' of Main Streets across America.
Edward Hopper captured the authenticity of America in his pictures. It is now increasingly undervalued, almost lost. Now more than ever, Hopper's pictures hold the key to understanding the inherent conflict in the American identity between old and new, between revolution and conservatism, to understanding how a country which elected Barack Obama could four years later choose Donald Trump.
Each Hopper picture has taken a unique road to get where it is today. They are journeys of devotion, luck, betrayal and whimsy. Collectively, they tell the story of Edward Hopper's career, including the neglected stories of the key benefactors and museums who promoted him. More broadly, they tell the story of modern America during and since Hopper's time.
Reading Hopper's correspondence and the reminiscences of his friends in locked archives and quiet libraries, we discover that Hopper, while given to isolation, was not lonely, as he is commonly stereotyped. We see his pictures in person, in dark basement storage rooms, sumptuous waterside mansions and packed city museums. Each encounter is like meeting a new friend.
We rediscover Hopper's forgotten watercolors and minor oils, their freshness and vibrancy literally hidden from the light in vaults across the country. The feelings of alienation from looking at a narrow spectrum of Hopper reproductions are replaced by sympathy and companionship in person.
A spiritual element to the journey builds as the author returns west, battling loneliness on the long empty roads. The searching sunlight of Hopper's pictures becomes an overriding theme. The light symbolized Hopper's personality and refracted his scenes: cool, clear, a light that believes in you. 'It's as if Hopper was saying that this figurative light is always around if you just look for it. That the light is, in fact, everywhere.'