Eric Hopkins: Above and Beyond Penobscot Bay
“Last year I had the best year ever,” my old friend Eric Hopkins told me back in May when I stopped by to visit him at his new studio on the edge of downtown Rockland, Maine.
Sometimes it seems as though Eric, one of the most popular and prolific painters in Maine, rules the entire midcoast. He came ashore from the island of North Haven a few years ago and set up a big studio and gallery just a block from the Farnsworth Art Museum. The gallery is still there, but now he’s got a new industrial-strength studio and loft overlooking Rockland Harbor and he spent much of the summer across Penobscot Bay on Mount Desert Island constructing three-dimensional paintings in a rented boathouse.
Eric Hopkins is as positive a source of energy as you’re ever likely to find in the art world, an artist as force of nature, enthused, excited, engaged and in love with both art and the natural world, so it doesn’t really surprise me that he’s done well even in the midst of a recession. People just want to buy into that high energy, the beautiful vision that Eric has of cosmic life along the coast.
This year seems to be shaping up as another good one for Eric, not the least of all because a new book about him, his art and his vision has just been published. Eric Hopkins: Above and Beyond (Down East Books, September 2011, $50 hardcover) is written by another of my old friends, poet and art critic Carl Little of Somesville on Mount Desert Island. Carl is the author of monographs on Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Dahlov Ipcar, and Beverly Hallam as well as several more on Maine art in general (and Maine island art in particular), and his good-natured prose is a perfect match for Eric’s enthusiastic art.
“Whether throwing hot glass from the fourth-floor window of a building at the Rhode Island School of Design or sweeping his brush across blank canvas to capture the curve of the earth, Hopkins is an American action artist,” Carl writes in the introduction to Eric Hopkins: Above and Beyond. “The world spins; he paints and performs; we look on in wonder.”
This 136-page, lavishly illustrated book tells Eric Hopkins’ story and reproduces a representative sampling of his art.
The story, well known to those who already know Eric, is of an island boy who paints the first fish he ever caught. Not a picture, mind you. Eric painted the fish itself. He and buddies start “hellacious” bonfires on island reefs, stoking them until they are hot enough to melt bottles. That delinquent fascination with molten glass led to study with Dale Chihuly, the glass master of our times, at RISD and to assisting the great man with his glassmaking. Initially an up-and-coming glass artist himself, Eric, he of the unbounded energy and short attention span, started slinging ropes of hot glass around to create “pyros,” drawings made with fire. The arcs of the pyros correspond to the curvature of the Earth, a visual dynamic made even more explicit when Eric takes to the air, painting aerial flights of visual fancy over Penobscot Bay, the edge of the world, the center of his universe.
Carl Little connects Hopkins aesthetically to Modernist painters John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Charles Burchfield and Arthur Dove, to which lineage one might add Milton Avery as well. The connection with one and all is the artistic effort to simplify, to reduce phenomena to their most essential components.
Eric Hopkins: Above and Beyond conveys the essential Hopkins enterprise. Whether drawing, painting, glassblowing, photographing, building, sculpting, or writing, Eric Hopkins is an artist who strives for the simple, the straightforward, the effortless, the free.
“As sacrilegious as it may seem to some aficionados of contemporary art,” writes Carl Little, “Hopkins is an upbeat artist.”
In an art world that primarily values the dark and ironic, it is no mean feat to be a serious artist who values the light and sincere, but Eric Hopkins pulls it off swimmingly.