Angela’s Fraleigh’s site-specific installation, Shadows Searching for Light, is inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper (1882-1967) and his relationship with his wife, Josephine (Jo) Nivison Hopper (1883-1968). The installation is a continuation of Fraleigh’s most recent body of work, paintings which reimagine and recontextualize marginalized female figures by freeing them from their previous roles in art history.
Exploring the psychological space within Edward Hopper’s paintings, and the dynamics of the Hoppers’ two-artist marriage, Fraleigh focuses on the women who inhabit Hopper’s artwork – dramatic figures almost always modeled after Jo Nivison Hopper herself. In a vibrant transformation of the main gallery space at the Edward Hopper House, Fraleigh’s wall coverings are inspired by Jo’s bold palette and vigorous, animated brushwork. They provide a fitting backdrop for paintings that reflect Jo Hopper’s often isolated persona within the context of her relationship with her reclusive husband.
At the time of her marriage to Edward Hopper in 1924, Jo Nivison was a respected artist in her own right exhibiting in New York City galleries with American modernist masters Stuart Davis, Maurice Prendergast, and Man Ray, among others. Charles Burchfield’s first New York exhibition was a two-artist show with Jo; her diary refers to “Burchfield’s show on the right side wall and Jo Hopper’s watercolors on the left and in the window.” When the Hoppers began courting in the summer of 1923 Edward had been struggling to sell his paintings – getting by on the income from the commercial illustration work he despised – until, with Jo’s assistance, he sold his first painting in a decade to the Brooklyn Museum. Jo had been invited to show her work in a prestigious exhibition there and convinced the curators to include Edward’s new work as well. The sale represented a pivotal turning point in Hopper’s career and after their marriage, as interest in his work burgeoned, Jo’s output, and the enthusiasm for her work, waned.
As curator Elizabeth Colleary noted, “for more than forty years Jo devoted herself to helping Hopper flourish in the art world while their personal relationship suffered. She was always the stalwart supporter of her husband – serving as his model and muse, and meticulously documenting his artistic output – while she struggled to maintain vestiges of her own creative life. Her husband would denigrate her efforts but she nonetheless plodded on, enjoying the many hours the artists spent painting side by side and producing some of her best, though largely unseen, work. Jo would be heartened by Fraleigh’s efforts to position her so prominently as an artist in her own right, and within her husband’s creative process – recognition that is long overdue.”
In preparation for the installation at Edward Hopper House, Fraleigh received permission to photograph source material for the paintings in the space the Hoppers lived and worked, at 3 Washington Square North, now owned by New York University. She states “It’s a somewhat sentimental or romantic gesture, photographing a contemporary model in the Hopper home, with the same light Hopper would have painted from, positioning the figure in the same place Jo would have posed - the model role-playing Jo, who was role-playing Hopper’s “women”… but in the paintings that come from this process I’m hoping to draw out the lost threads of this particular history and connect it to contemporary concerns of agency, identity, access and power. Jo’s influence is blaring from the walls, seeping into the space, while the expressionless figures, lost forever in thought, meditate on what could have been for Jo and what could be for them.”