Artist returns to Nyack in multimedia festival
(Photo by Seth Harrison/The Journal News: Kris Burns, artist in residence at the Hopper House, on the porch at the birthplace of Edward Hopper. Burns has devised the second annual “Hopper Happens” multimedia festival, Aug. 17-24, throughout Nyack. Learn 10 things about Kris Burns here.)
Hopper House artist-in-residence Kris Burns likes the word “encounter.”
She peppers he conversation with it when discussing “Hopper Happens,” the second annual celebration of artist Edward Hopper that will turn Nyack’s streets, storefronts, alleys and buildings into a multimedia canvas celebrating the village’s most-famous son.
“There’s a timelessness to Hopper’s people,” she says. “These are people you could have encountered that morning, standing in doorways and leaning on porches.”
Burns’ labor of love is driven by a favorite quote from artist and writer Victor Burgin: “We need not look for Hopper in order to find him. We may encounter him by chance at random places where his world intersects our own.”
Burns is on a mission to increase the likelihood of such encounters, taking Hopper, the realist painter who lived from 1882 to 1967, out of his birthplace-turned-museum on North Broadway and projecting him — literally — into the community.
Burns has created life-sized cutouts of Hopper people and will place them throughout the village from Aug. 17 to 24, making possible a brush with Hopper while running errands or turning the corner.
Other cutouts will adorn buildings with a technique called wheat pasting, using a slurry of flour and water. Just add Hopper. Over time, the elements will waste away the wheat-pasted images, placed with the OK of the buildings’ owners.
“Hopper Happens” won’t just be outside. There will be “pop-up galleries” in local businesses.
“When you go into Johnny Cakes and you open your menu, you just might find a photograph from a flash mob we did there, or there’ll be a postcard image between the salt and pepper shakers,” Burns says.
“I’m trying to encourage people to get off the street and go into the store, not knowing when they’re going to encounter Hopper images and my photographs. They have to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings.”
Hopper images could be anywhere.
“I always use elements of the shop,” she says. “If you see a photograph and it’s in a frame, it’s a frame you can buy in the shop. Maria Luisa has this beautiful chandelier with these clips and the photographs will be hanging from there. That’s something she sells. As someone who lives in Nyack and really feels passionately about shopping locally, I’m trying to encourage people to get excited about objects in the store, a second layer of the pop-up galleries.”
Sharp-eyed strollers will also find “Hopper Happens” QR codes — those boxy bar codes that can be scanned with a smartphone — posted throughout the village. They link to videos of Hopper works inspired by that address, putting you in Hopper’s shoes.
Some of the QR codes link to video interviews with local residents describing what it felt like last year to play Hopper characters — on street corners, against lampposts, in shop windows.
“You’ll hear a sound bite from a person who was in a window, about what they were thinking when they were sitting there in the window in their pajamas,” Burns says. “I’m also curious about why people agreed to sit there in a bathrobe and pretend they were a forlorn housewife. What never ceased to amaze me was that every time someone was in one of these ‘Hopper Happenings,’ they were clearly channeling some narrative or story. I did not direct them. I showed them Hopper paintings and they just got it.”
Burns calls the QR-code digital walking tour “Chasing Edward Hopper,” given that the exercise becomes something of a scavenger hunt. Those without smartphones can view the videos in the Hopper House media lab, she says.
Burns will do one Hopper flash mob (or tableau) this year, in which volunteers will dress in Hopper clothes and strike a Hopper pose at carefully chosen locations. (Check www.hopperhappens.org for details.) While the impact will be immediate upon the viewer, Burns hopes for a longer takeaway from the experience.
“What I hope people do is to take a photograph of the tableau in which they then notice the buildings and the settings, because they are placed where they are for very specific reasons.”
The tableau, Burns hopes, will change the way people look at their world, making them appreciate taking time to notice things, light and shadow and the lingering vestiges of an advertisement painted on a brick wall decades ago.
The encounters don’t stop when the sun goes down. Burns has been canvassing the village looking for spots for pop-up projections. After sunset on Aug. 19, 23 and 24, Hopper images will be projected onto walls, onto bricked-over windows and buildings around the village.
“I crop the photos to fit the location and it becomes a slideshow of images from Hopper paintings,” she says. “It makes it feel like it could be happening right there, right in front of you. Part of what I’m saying is that ‘This could have happened here.’ I don’t want it to be gimmicky. It’s more like ‘Look up! You just don’t know. Be aware.’”
It’s only fitting that Hopper should get his due here, says Burns, a Staten Island native who has lived in the village for 20 years.
“Hopper is a superstar in the art world. I just found it to be so stunning that here’s this famous artist and there isn’t a huge sense of civic pride that he comes from here.”
Contrast that, Burns says, with upstate Elmira, the summer home of Mark Twain, where “everything is Huck Finn this and Mark Twain that and Tom Sawyer this. Every Little League, every sandwich has a connection.”
Burns hopes to find a happy medium for Hopper in his hometown.
“It’s not impossible to live here your whole life and never have heard of Hopper. And that’s not right. I do think there’s a bit of ‘no man is a prophet in his own land,’ but Hopper continues to be so relevant. We’re not honoring him simply because he came from here, there’s so much still there to revisit that we should celebrate him.”
“Hopper Happens” is the first event supported by the Nyack Public Art Committee, started by Mayor Jen Laird-White to bring art out of exhibit spaces and engage the community.
“The village has given in-kind, technical, philosophical and moral support to ‘Hopper Happens’ since its inception,” Burns says. “This year, they are also giving financial support by funding the entire Backyard Cinema series.”
Hopper had a profound influence on photography and film. And vice versa.
“Hopper’s watching movies and that’s influencing his painting and the filmmakers are looking at his paintings and it’s influencing their movies,” Burns says. “It’s hard to tell where it ends and where it begins because he is very cinematic. His paintings feel like movie stills … or is it that movies look like Hopper?”
Alfred Hitchcock saw Hopper’s “House by the Railroad” and was inspired to create the Bates Motel in “Psycho,” a moive the Hopper House screened last year.
When Anthony Perkins asked Hitchcock for character advice, he was told to “look at Hopper paintings.”
Among the Backyard Cinema offerings, shown at Hopper House, are Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (Aug. 17) and Charles Laughton’s “The Night of the Hunter” (Aug. 31).
If one of the goals of “Hopper Happens” is to get people to begin to see Nyack as Hopper did, that effort has already borne fruit, Burns says. Last year’s event inspired local artist Bill Batson.
“He got this idea to create a composite landscape of the village and he got 100 people to come to Nyack and they drew the village from their own point of view,” Burns says. “They’re all fantastic and different. I created a slideshow of all the work that people made. We’ll show that video as part of our Backyard Cinema along with ‘Rear Window.’”
What: The second annual multimedia festival.
When: Through Aug. 31.
Where: At Edward Hopper Art Center, 82 N Broadway Nyack, and throughout the village.
Web: edwardhopperhouse.org or hopperhappens.org
See a gallery of Hopper people, faces you might encounter in Nyack, here.
(More Hopper people, in “The Barber Shop” (1931) private collection; and “Tables for Ladies” (1930) George A. Hearn Fund; and “New York Office” (1962) Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.)
Aug. 17: Backyard Cinema (at Hopper House) — “Rear Window,” and “Hopper’s World” pop-up projection. 8:30 p.m.
Aug. 17-24: Pop-up Galleries at Grace’s Thrift Shop, Johnny Cakes, Maria Luisa, Nyack Gourmet and Pickwick Book Shop
Aug. 17-24: Digital Walking Tour “Chasing Edward Hopper” — Main and Franklin; Carson McCuller’s House; Hopper House; Broadway and High Avenue.
Aug. 19: Pop-up Projection — High Avenue, Hopper’s World.
Aug. 23: Pop-up Projection — Franklin Avenue, Hopper’s World.
Aug. 24: Pop-up Projection — Midland and Main, “Chasing Edward Hopper,” an original short.
Aug. 31: Backyard Cinema — “The Night of the Hunter,” and “Flash Sketch Mob” slideshow. 8:30 p.m.
Aug. 17-19, 23, 24: Hopper House Media Lab — See the films from the digital walking tour, get clues about the location of Hopper Happenings, purchase souvenir books and postcards.