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June 7 , 2007
DH 07 JH

Emeritus Professor of English Publishes Book on Edward Hopper’s Art of Solitude

Carson, CA Walter Wells parts the curtain on the world of one of America’s most enigmatic painters in Silent Theater: The Art of Edward Hopper (London: Phaidon Press, 2007), to be released in the United States and Great Britain on June 11. A French translation is scheduled for release in the fall. In the book, the California State University, Dominguez Hills emeritus professor of English underscores the similarities between the visual and literary arts for his readers.

“Aesthetics knows a lot of overlap,” he says. “The first time I brought a few Hopper slides into the classroom, I did so to compare and contrast their implications to several poems by Walt Whitman. Later, when I began teaching film and propaganda in the humanities program, I found I had more to say about painters, photographers and filmmakers, whose rhetoric I found far from mutually exclusive from that of poets, novelists, and dramatists.”

The concept of cross-sensory imagery, or synaesthesia, is a phenomenon that Wells uses to illustrate the power of Hopper’s work.

“Ordinarily, of course, we see what we see, hear what we hear, taste what we taste,” he says. “Artists, however, have the power to cross and tangle our senses with imagery that makes us taste what we see, hear what we feel, give us odorful color, melodious flavor, or a chill wind perceived as a wailing siren or a quavering blue light. Synaesthesia can be powerfully engaging. It’s one of the qualities that makes a ‘silent’ painting like 'Early Sunday Morning' so electrifying an image. Notice how its tenement buildings, storefronts, that middle awning, and especially that barber pole all lean perceptibly away from a sun whose rays seem to strike with the force of a strong wind.”

In writing Silent Theater, Wells tied his admiration of Hopper’s work to its growing worldwide appeal.

“I’ve long found a number of his pictures personally compelling, for reasons that, initially, I didn't quite understand,” he admits. “So it's not a stretch to see one of the motives behind the book as that of self-discovery. But a number of other people feel the same way. So to understand Hopper's art a little better, and what it is that makes it as widely appealing, wasn't simply navel-gazing but a search for some broader and genuinely interesting academic insight, into both art and art appreciation.”

It took Wells five years to write Silent Theater. “The book took shape,” he says, “around a recognition of the numerous connections between Hopper's art and the themes and outlooks of certain important writers --Emerson, Melville, Hemingway, Ibsen, among others-- and grew from there.”

Wells points out that, “No artist's strategies for bridging the distance between his own psyche and a viewer's are better developed than his. The images endure because the realities they depict are quickly superseded for viewers by the deeper veins of shared experience into which they tap. Edward Hopper taught us a new way of seeing both the twentieth century and ourselves.”

Wells has written several books, including Tycoons and Locusts: A Regional Look at Hollywood Fiction of the 1930s (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973), Mark Twain’s Sure-Fire Programmed Guide to Backgrounds in American Literature (Scales Mound: Educulture, Inc., 1977) and Communications in Business (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Co., Inc., 1968, 1977, 1981, 1985, 1988). He also served as editor of an audiobook series for the Educulture Press and has written reviews and features for the Los Angeles Times Book Review.

Dominguez Hills - University Communications & Public Affairs
Contact: Brenda Knepper
1000 E. Victoria Street

Carson, CA 90747
(310) 243-2001















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Last updated June 7, 2007, 3:37 p.m.
by Joanie Harmon-Whetmore