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Postcard from New York: Metaphysics = Hopper and di Chirico

Canon 17-40mm lens. Exp: 30 seconds @ F10 ISO 400
©2012 Alison Perry

by Alison Perry

Recently, I stumbled on a vacant warehouse in my search for landscape imagery. Wandering about the grounds of the facility, the dreamscape imagery of the Representational painter, Georgio di Chirico, (1888-1978), came to mind. The warehouse’s oversized rectangular brick form, repetitive windows and long interior shadows spilling across the interior floor through the arched windows echoed the motifs in di Chirico’s Greek piazza scenes.

In the history of art, di Chirico’s short lived metaphysical period (1910-1920), is considered a precursor to Surrealism,(1924-), an art movement grounded in metaphysics, a branch of philosophy that postulates we formulate our world view based on our experience in it. It shifted artistic exploration away from the physical landscape to the subconscious landscape. I thought about the relationship between the early 20th century representational painter, Georgio di Chirico and my favorite artist, Edward Hopper, the American Realism/Regional painter, who’s subject matter many now believe is rooted in Surrealism and who’s painting style echos di Chirico. Though their imagery is vastly different, their underlying motivation and painting style shares similarities. Hopper painted in a spare, enigmatic representational style reminiscent of di Chirico, and like him, Hopper used architecture to forge a relationship between his emotions and the outside world. Both artist’s constructed landscapes where space, light, architecture, elongated shadows, and people and objects were made to correspond to an interior mood and both artist’s invented their compositions through a distillation of events and memory.

Georgio de Chirico, The Soothsayer’s Recompense, 1913

Georgio di Chirico’s paintings appear as dreamscape narratives, a remembrance of things past, mostly of his early childhood growing up in Volos, Greece, where is father worked as a railroad engineer. Edward Hopper (1882-1967), like other Surrealist painters of the era, was influenced by Freudian dreamscape psychology. Sigmund Freud’s timely and widely read: The Interpretation of Dreams, first published in the USA in 1913, formulated that dreams were unconscious desires, thoughts and motivations. Beginning around 1924-25, Hopper’s narrative paintings began to correspond to the changes in the American landscape, to his marriage and to monumental events occurring in America during his life time. A Hopper painting is easily recognized because figures and objects appear in illusionary space, almost as photographic snapshot moments in time, but the mood shifts back and forth between a state of psychological detachment and attachment, Hopper’s simultaneous conscious and subconscious response to an inner world view and the outside world undergoing vast changes. Like the people in his paintings, Hopper felt simultaneously connected and disconnected to his world.

Canon 17-40 lens. Exp: 125 @ F8 ISO 640 ©2012 Alison Perry

When I got an opportunity, I experimented with the imagery I took that day and evening to create two dreamscape realities. The daytime interior image with the tree line reflected in the window blends almost seemlessly with the interior space. I shot through a large multi-paned class window with a polarizer to penetrate the glare, which obliterated most of the bright window reflections, but obscured a lot of the interior skeletal construction, while leaving the dark tree line intact. After shooting through the window, I stayed till after dark to photograph the parking lot or plaza. Elongated shadows spilling onto the paved surface were cause by the bright streetlight nearby. The shadow in the lower center is my tripod, representing me.

I now use Adobe Lightroom, a digital manipulation software application that can maximize an image in about one-half hour. For both shots I played with color temperature, vibrance, shadow/highlight, luminance and contrast controls, then cropped each image to strengthen the architectural perspective. The color temperature control changes the overall tonal value of an image from warm to cool or cool to warm. Even though the 1st image was made in late afternoon raking light, I decided to play up the cool tones and darken the shadows to make it seem later than it was.

Giorgio de Chirico. Mystery and Melancholy of a Street 1914

I lightening the 2nd shot considerably and boosted the contrast to give it a stark look, like di Chirico’s paintings, then played with the temperature and luminance controls to make the earth and sky tones resemble his, the vibrance control to add color and the shadow/midtone/highlight controls to decrease the overall tonal range. Lastly, I used both sets of luminance functions; one manipulates saturation, hue and brightness, the other decreases color noise by smoothing out pixelation. These manipulations gave the outdoor image that extreme contrast both artists perfected with paint, but the dreamlike quality which is more pronounced in the art of Georgio di Chirico.

Alison Perry owns a Nyack-based photography business that combines architecture, landscape and formal space and strives to make personal art about time and place. Imagery is for sale through her website. She received BFA in Studio Art from SUNY Purchase and a graduate degree in Library Science from Long Island University. Previously, she worked in journalistic and editorial photography for several different national/regional newspapers in NYC, PA and CA. See examples of her work at


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Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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