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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

March 13, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

HOPPER by Mark Strand. (Ecco: $21; 53 pp.) This is the fourth in Ecco's wonderful Writers on Art series, in which writers who have pondered, been inspired by or just admired certain artists get to write about them. It's almost always an uncanny, complicated, separated-at-birth sort of pairing, too, a little diabolical, but always short and sweet and to the point. It makes things a little more interesting if you know the work of both the painter and the writer; but it is not necessary, since what you are given really are new ways to look at the paintings and new questions to ask about what the artist wanted to say. Strand asks questions about direction and movement in the paintings--do the shapes confine the viewers or free them; and desire--do we want to be there looking or do we want to get away, or as in Nighthawks, does it seem as though we just happened by; spirit--conveyed mostly by the quality of the light--which Strand says "has an otherworldly power," "Hopper's shapes carry the sensation of light," it is "atemporal" and "peculiar"; and finally time: "Hopper's paintings are not vacancies in a rich ongoingness. They are all that can be gleaned from a vacancy that is shaded not so much by the events of a life lived as by the time before life and the time after," or, put another way, "There is a lot of waiting going on." Gradually, the real brotherhood between the two artists becomes clear. Strand's poetry has a very similar distance to it; reading it, you seem to grow farther from, rather than closer to, the things you are reading about. And the direction you are moving in is toward the same "beyondness" that permeates the light in Hopper's paintings. The difference might be that one would rather go to the beyondness of Strand's poetry than to whatever sad world lurks behind the curtain of Hopper's paintings. For one thing, there are more trees.

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