Janette Hopper’s artistic career has been unswervingly busy, as proven by seemingly countless exhibitions throughout the States and all across Europe. She even taught painting in Germany and Denmark for a spell, and used the opportunity to find inspiration in the same landscapes that captivated so many great Romantic painters of the 1700s. Although Hopper values all forms of art throughout history, Romanticism holds a special place in her heart. As a neo-romanticist, she hopes to instill a sense of awe drawn from an emotional response to the majesty of nature.
“For me, romanticism represented expressing your deepest emotions through what you paint and through the natural world,” she elaborates. “Even the scientists and philosophers—everyone was interested in the natural world. I would like our age to be like that too. I don’t want to see us have any more extinct animals. I don’t want to see us not having drinkable water. I want to save the wild places. While this feels like an escape for me in a way, because I leave out the destruction in this series, it’s also an appeal to save these kinds of places that serve as an inspiration for all of us, for our thinkers, our children, for everyone, really, to become refreshed. It’s a spiritual experience that changes you.”
However, Hopper’s hopes of preservation aren’t patronizing. She pays reverence to nature as something far removed from fragile. Rather, we are the ones who ought to be worried about what the natural world will do to us in response to what we do to it. Just as painters like Caspar David Friedrich tried to convey a sense of terror in nature’s wrath unveiled, so too does Hopper embrace it in what the romantic writers called “the sublime.”
“Which meant ‘be a little fearful,’” she elaborates. “Be a little fearful of the cliffs, and the great distance. If you stand on that edge, it’s a big drop-off. So that’s another element, the vigor of the landscape. Nature is powerful and it’s getting more and more powerful with our storms, and with global warming. We’re going to see more of that sublime in nature, which is a little bit scary.”
Certainly, Hopper does not shy away from this aspect of landscape painting. Her clouds look like entire skies in tumult, defiantly painted so thickly gobs of paint themselves cast shadows on the painted surface. Cloud-darkened skies reach out to seize you while seascapes flow with a deceptive stillness that promises to pull you in like a riptide. These expanses of air and water often dominate the painting, seeming to extend forever, compared to tiny dirt roads that shrink to meet the horizon beneath them.
But there’s more to the sublime than gathering storms and impending doom. English poet William Wordsworth wrote about finding the sublime in awe-inspiring landscapes, and trying to grasp something so much bigger than yourself that the mind can’t fully grasp it. At this point, the mind gives up and the spirit takes over for a spell. Hopper’s skies, oceans and fields seem to go on forever, even without tumultuous clouds and perilous cliffs. One such sight was influenced by an unlikely vantage point.
“This one, ‘Winter Morning,’ is inspired by a trip to Fayetteville,” she exclaims. “When you drive through the countryside in North Carolina, you’re always looking through a lace of trees. So here the sun comes up and the moon is still up. I wanted to get that feeling when you look out through the landscape. Maybe that landscape isn’t beautiful any other time of day.”
Hopper’s view of Fayetteville is directly tied to the time of day she experienced it. A saturated blue sky fades to distant yellow glow as the sun sets on one side while the moon is held up on the opposite side nestled in accumulating clouds of rich peach and cream tones. A lonely road bends abruptly toward lonely barn-houses. The rest is a sparse landscape of bare trees, gestural evergreens, and fields of deliberately loose ochres, lavenders, greens, and blues. Hopper’s wintry Fayetteville is a confident display of brushwork, rendering vacant acreage into a scene that becomes emphatically occupied. Moreso than that, it’s a gentle reminder to enjoy what surrounds us for what it is.
“I love the rural world,” Hopper muses. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be the most dramatic spot to bring a great feeling to you. It can have a feeling of familiarity. How often do we get on a little dirt road like this? Well, not too often anymore. We’re on fast freeways where we don’t see very much. Getting to wind through the hills, through the trees into the light’s back there, you get great distance.”
Of course, the fields of Fayetteville are not purple and gold. Hopper deviates from the romanticist norm and applies a touch of unreal color to her naturalistic sights, much like Paul Cézanne. It is true of all her paintings, not just those about North Carolina. By adding a touch of color, or by changing the way light shines through the clouds, Hopper commemorates the view and the feeling she had at that very moment.
“I use a lot of artistic license,” she clarifies. “A lot of artists paint in the same color palette, but my color palette is very affected by the scene that’s inspiring me. It’s not just a snapshot of the scene, it’s a development of the particular place, trying to get a sense of the place—but it’s not really the place exactly.”
Aside from revering nature and nostalgia, Hopper also hopes to encourage a sense of comfort. By reminding us about the splendor of nature and the problems humanity faces in damaging the natural world, she also shows us our troubles seem bigger than what they are. They, too, will be forgotten in time, no matter how dire they seem.
“If you’re overwhelmed by your problems and you look at these paintings, hopefully you’ll realize they’re really not that important,” she says with a laugh. “They’re going to pass. Everything is going to change, and there are way bigger issues going on. We’re not the center of the Earth; we’re just a little small part.”