Within nearly all artists, there are really SEVERAL artists, each trying to dominate the others. Sometimes, one manages to emerge victorious to the decimation of the rest, and in other cases, the triumph is only temporary. Sometimes the conflict between these artists can get really nasty, while in other cases, there is a kind of peaceful coexistence reminiscent of the "Cold War." An example would be a Realist painter who can't help dabbling from time to time in Impressionism. That's me. Or perhaps a painter might secretly, behind closed doors, late at night when no one is watching, harbor delusions of grandeur in becoming a great photographer. I also know a photographer who's fighting a losing battle to become an oil painter.
However, one of the problems artists encounter as they become "known" is that in most cases only ONE of the artists within them is recognized by the public, which likes to pigeonhole artists as to style and medium. And with success, that style and medium quickly becomes "set in stone." An example of this is Edward Hopper. We are all familiar with his oil paintings of lonely urban street corners, tourists baking in the sun, and nude female figures amidst the tired, empty confines of motel rooms. Even his sun-drenched landscapes with their pristine, Victorian houses have something of a "dreary" quality to them. But hiding inside this oil painter was a very adept watercolorist with a much more cheerful disposition. Hopper attributed this difference to the fact that given the transparency of the medium, it was very hard to do a somber watercolor.
Hopper was first introduced to watercolors early in his career even though he was forty-one at the time. The time was the summer of 1923. He was working as an illustrator and starving as a painter. He had sold a grand total of but ONE painting when he met fellow artist, Josephine Nivison, who also introduced him to painting out of doors. The fact that a romance blossomed between them as quickly as his skill in the medium may also have had something to do with the lighter mood of his watercolor painting. While she painted the sea around Gloucester, Mass., he turned his back to the water and painted the beach houses and rustic fishing villages. Later that year, Josephine helped him get some of his watercolors into a Brooklyn Museum of Art show. There he sold his second painting. A later show at a private gallery sold out, eleven watercolors plus six more he dug out of a drawer at home. The next year he married Josephine and continued to paint off and on in watercolor for the next thirty years, yet ironically, it was the studio artist within him, that won out, creating work heavy with atmosphere and opaque paint, becoming the Edward Hopper we've all come to know and admire. An exhibit of his watercolors opens soon at the National Museum of American Art in Washington running through January 3, 2000, whereupon it moves on to Montgomery, Alabama, through March.