For her site-specific installation at Edward Hopper's birthplace, artist Angela Fraleigh was inspired by his paintings as well as his relationship with his wife, Josephine Nivison Hopper. Shadows Searching for Light is a continuation of her most recent work; paintings which reimagine and recontextualise marginalised female figures by freeing them from their previous roles in art history.
Exploring the psychological space within Edward Hopper’s paintings, and the dynamics of the Hoppers’ two-artist marriage, Fraleigh focuses on the women who inhabit Hopper’s artwork – dramatic figures almost always modelled after Jo Nivison Hopper herself.
In a vibrant transformation of the main gallery space at the Edward Hopper House, Fraleigh’s wall coverings are inspired by Jo’s bold palette and vigorous, animated brushwork. They provide a fitting backdrop for paintings that reflect Jo Hopper’s often isolated persona within the context of her relationship with her reclusive husband.
At the time of her marriage to Edward Hopper in 1924, Jo Nivison was a respected artist in her own right exhibiting in New York City galleries with American modernist masters Stuart Davis, Maurice Prendergast, and Man Ray, among others. Charles Burchfield’s first New York exhibition was a two-artist show with Jo; her diary refers to "Burchfield’s show on the right side wall and Jo Hopper’s watercolours on the left and in the window."
When the Hoppers began courting in the summer of 1923 Edward had been struggling to sell his paintings – getting by on the income from the commercial illustration work he despised – until, with Jo’s assistance, he sold his first painting in a decade to the Brooklyn Museum. Jo had been invited to show her work in a prestigious exhibition there and convinced the curators to include Edward’s new work as well. The sale represented a pivotal turning point in Hopper’s career and after their marriage, as interest in his work burgeoned, Jo’s output, and the enthusiasm for her work waned.
For more than forty years Jo devoted herself to helping Hopper flourish in the art world while their personal relationship suffered. She was always the stalwart supporter of her husband – serving as his model and muse, and meticulously documenting his artistic output – while she struggled to maintain vestiges of her own creative life. Her husband would denigrate her efforts but she nonetheless plodded on, enjoying the many hours the artists spent painting side by side and producing some of her best, though largely unseen, work.
In preparation for the installation at Edward Hopper House, Fraleigh received permission to photograph source material for her paintings at 3 Washington Square North in Greenwich Village – where the Hoppers lived and worked for more than forty years and now owned by New York University.
Regarding the experience Fraleigh said that it was "a somewhat sentimental or romantic gesture, photographing a contemporary model in the Hopper home – with the same light Hopper would have painted from, positioning the figure in the same place Jo would have posed – and with the model role-playing Jo, who was in turn role-playing Hopper’s ‘women.’
"In the paintings that come from this process, I’m hoping to draw out the lost threads of this particular history and connect it to contemporary concerns of agency, identity, access and power. In my site-specific, immersive installation Jo’s influence is blaring from the walls, seeping into the space, while the expressionless figures, lost forever in thought, meditate on what could have been for Jo and what could be for them."
Clearly, Josephine Nivison Hopper would be heartened by Angela Fraleigh’s efforts. Shadows Searching for Light at Edward Hopper House until 17 February 2019. Special thanks to Edward Hopper House for inviting us to see the exhibition.