Edward Hopper: Couples at Crossroads

Many of Edward Hopper’s paintings show people at a hiatus point in a journey, where they have come to rest in a hotel or motel and the viewer is left with a sense that there is no narrative that will propel them forward.

Indeed, it is an aspect of Hopper’s paintings that is frequently repeated. Like  paintings that I have classified as the traveller paintings, there are a number of paintings of couples who appear to have reached a point in their relationships that appear to have no narrative to drive them forward leaving them stranded in time.

Often in these paintings, it is possible for the viewer to construct a narrative of sorts that has led the subjects of the paintings to this particular point.

This is true in Room in New York. Here we see two people, linked visually but also separated emotionally, by a table in the centre of the painting. There has been some form of argument or discussion that has led to an impasse. He has withdrawn into reading his newspaper, she sits by the piano idly tapping on the keys. She gives the impression of having nothing to do now that the conversation has ended and her body language suggests a gap that is widening between them that is larger than the table.


The man in the picture is sitting hunched forward over his reading in a position that is common in Hopper’s paintings.


From left to right the central figures in Summer in the City, Excursion into Philosophy and Sunday.  Whereas the figures in these three pictures are all staring at large expanses of light on the floor or the street in front of them, the man in Room in New York  is looking forward into a dark, lightless pit in the bottom of the painting.

The motif of the figure sitting on the edge of a patch of light, staring at the nothingness is common in Hopper’s paintings and Excursion into Philosophy  suggests that this contemplation is of a serious nature, not necessarily joyous but certainly deeply reflective.

No such light exists for the male figure in Room in New York.  The relationship between the two figures has clearly reached some kind of junction or intersection. This much of the narrative can be deduced from the painting. But again, like so many of Hopper’s paintings there is no hint of where the narrative will go after this.

A similar tension exists in Office at Night.  The painting has many similarities with Room in New York.  The man sits reading, ignoring or oblivious to the attractive woman standing at the filing cabinet. She is clearly waiting for something to happen as is the woman in Room in New York.

Is this simply a picture of a secretary ( notice the typewriter in the bottom left-hand corner) who is taking something out of the filing cabinet for the boss?  Her highly sexualised portrayal suggests otherwise. The very strong light source  which appears to be coming from the window links the two figures and isolates them from the typewriter in the bottom left-hand corner.

Office At Night (1940)

The composition of the painting and the use of light suggests that the tension between the two figures is something other than to do with the formal office relationship.

But like Room in New York,  the relationship between the two figures has reached a hiatus. He is studiously ignoring her and she is studiously not ignoring him. It is impossible for the viewer to guess what will happen next. As he does in so many paintings, Hopper provides no narrative beyond the moment that he has captured.

Other Hopper Blogs

 Sunlight and structure: Hopper’s Sun Watchers

 Hopper’s Sunlight Paintings: Ideal Forms and Shadows

 Edward Hopper: the Sunlight pictures (i)

 Edward Hopper: travellers going nowhere

 Hopper’s travellers (ii)

 Edward Hopper’s Travellers

 Edward Hopper – “Lighthouse at Two Lights”


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Another argument against negative gearing

In The Age, today Gareth Hutchens discusses a number of issues relating to the housing market. Why negative gearing should be abolished.

The first part of his argument is that the first-time buyer’s grant only puts up the price of housing for first-time buyers by the amount of grant. He is almost certainly right, first-time buyer with an extra $20,000 in their pockets as result of the grant are going to push the price of the house up by $20,000 above what they would otherwise have paid and Hutchens argues that this effectively pushes prices up for everyone.

He also discusses the effect of negative gearing on property prices. The essence of his argument is that investors are able to recoup some of their costs: interest payments, repairs etc by writing these costs off against their primary source of income where they are probably paying $.46c in the dollar.

This advantage is not available to first-time buyers and gives the property investor the edge over the new entrant to the market.

As I’ve pointed out previously, the huge inequity of this particular system is that the investor is able to deduct their expenses at their marginal tax rate, whereas businesses are only able to deduct expenses at the 32% rate for business. First-home buyers are not able to deduct expenses at all.

There are myriad reasons for limiting the extent to which properties can be negatively geared, but the only argument for negative gearing is that it increases the stock of housing. This is not true, as negatively geared investors seem to be buying existing stock rather than building new houses.

Perhaps the only really strong arguments for negative gearing is that a significant number of our parliamentarians engage in this practice which makes repeal or even curtailing of this iniquitous rort highly unlikely

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Winslow Homer and the American Maritime Epic

Winslow Homer (February 24, 1836 – September 29, 1910) was an American landscape painter and printmaker, best known for his marine subjects. He is considered one of the foremost painters in 19th-century America and a preeminent figure in American art.

ho Sometimes when you see a painting, it seems to summons up a vision of the way you imagine people think of themselves.  Sometimes these are epic paintings, sometimes they are idyllic landscapes. In the case of Winslow Homer, Breezing Up sums up what I think part of the American vision is. It’s part epic and is part idyllic: the idyllic element is a family outing on a yacht and the  epic element is the confrontation between man and the elements.

Three of the members of the crew of the sloop appear to Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and a friend.  Seated in the cockpit is an older male – the father? He is holding the mainsheet, the rope that controls the sail and the dynamics of the boat. The figures of the three boys are contrasting images of concentration. The boy holding the tiller is perched well towards windward, alert  and watching the horizon. The smallest boy is perched on the rail seemingly intent on maintaining his balance. The third boy, possibly the eldest, is lying, casual and relaxed, between the cockpit and the bow, his feet resting on the sheet. He appears disinterested in what his younger brother is doing at the tiller of the boat. Is he  sulking because his younger brother is succeeding where perhaps he may have failed? The father (Robert Hughes thinks it’s an elder brother) is intent on maintaining the tension on the main sheet.

There is a dynamic between him and the boy was the tiller, he’s inwardly focused on positioning the mainsail, the helmsman is intent on the course of the boat. The painting is a wonderful depiction of the dynamics of a family of a father and three boys.


It’s also a painting that extols  the development of self-reliance and the ability to confront and tame the elements. Importantly, these virtues are being developed within the family. but there is a wider context for this; in the background is a larger vessel plying its trade up and down the East Coast. It’s nice to have a day out in the yacht with the family, but it’s even better if the boys are being prepared for the maritime life at the same time.

It is also very beautiful painting. It’s hard to imagine a painting of a yacht not being beautiful.  The boat is heeling over so that the line of the bodies, the angle of the mast and the curve of the main sail propel the boat out of the frame of the picture.

The huge energy of the yacht, driven by the mainsail ,is controlled by the small figure of the boy at the tiller counter-poised and perched on the transom. It’s Yankee know-how at its best.

A very similar images captured by Edward Hopper in his etching The Cat Boat.  Visually, the picture is very similar but there is a tension in the Hopper that isn’t present in Winslow Homer’s painting. The defined musculature of the helmsman demonstrates this tension and the slightly apprehensive positioning of the female passenger indicates that there may be  some danger in the rocky coastline for which they are heading.

Hopper etching

Another Homer epic is The Herring Net  which could be subtitled Homage to Industry. The themes of this painting are similar to those of Breezing Up.  Here are two men  in what appears to be an impossibly small boat with nothing between them and the forces of nature except their resilience, their skill and their strength.

Herring net 2

There is a sense of power in the two, almost archetypical, figures dragging the net into the boat. They are perched the top of wave, dominating the centre of the painting.

The final painting which completes this group is Fog Warning. All the elements from the previous two paintings are present: a small boat, in this case with a sole occupant, in a large expanse of dangerous sea, the self-reliant fishermen bringing home a fish bigger than he is. There is also a sense of impending danger in the storm that is   brewing on the horizon as he rows home.

the-fog-warning Again there is a sense of energy and dynamism in the way in which the fisherman is propelling his boat over the waves. In this painting, as in The Herring Net, the small boat dominates the painting and the waves around it.

 In these three paintings, Winslow Homer’s external’s and celebrates of some of the great American virtues: hard work, resilience, self-reliance and fortitude.  The Herring Net and Fog Warning are epic paintings in that the figures in the boats are relatively abstracted   not at all personalised, with a small amount of detail, allowing the viewer to concentrate on the larger issues of the relationship between man and nature. Breezing Up  is a subtle combination of epic and idyllic themes: the epic confrontation between man and nature and the idealised notions of the family.

And this is why I think these paintings capture something particularly American and particularly noble.

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Sunlight and structure: Hopper’s Sun Watchers

In looking at a wide selection of Edward Hopper’s paintings (something that is possible with the wonders of the internet), one thing that stands out is the compositional similarity between groups of his paintings.  In Second Story Sunlight, Sea Watchers, Sunlight on Brownstones, a man and a woman look out of the frame the painting into the sunlight.

 Sunlight and compositional similarity in Hopper's paintings

Sunlight and compositional similarity in Hopper’s paintings

The similarity of the compositional elements and the structure of the paintings is quite striking. The couples are posed against a building and are framed by the windows of the building. The upper right of the paintings contains a stylised landscape, typical of Hopper and the structure of the painting leads the viewer’s eye tin the same direction as the subjects are looking. There is also a sense of anticipation in the way the couples are looking at towards the light which is similar to the woman in  Woman in the Sun and Morning Sun  Sun The structure of the Sea Watchers  takes the viewer in the direction that the couple is looking: the downward sloping towels that are blowing on the clothesline, lead the eye to the two bathers, one of whom is leaning forward. This forward inclination of the body combined with a flat sunlit surface of the balcony directs our attention outside the frame of the painting as it does in all of the paintings in this series. 1952-sea-watchers This structure is repeated in Sunlight on Brownstones. Here the two figures are reclining backwards ever so slightly, lining them up with the line of the balustrades leading down to the bottom right-hand corner of the picture. The flat line of the road and the scrub on the small hill lead the views eye out of the  frame of the picture. Sunlight on Brownstones In Second Story Sunlight,  the structure again is similar. The clean geometrical shapes of the building are framed by the foliage in the background which leads out of the right-hand side of the painting. The balanced body positions of the two figures appears to direct their attention out of the frame of the picture. edward-hopper-second-story-sunlight The final picture in this series People in the Sun, is a masterclass in structure. The structure repeats the compositional themes of the previous three paintings. The people in the painting are looking at something beyond the frame of the painting as in all of the others in this series and their replacement and body position is central to the dynamics of the painting. People In The Sun The solid block of brown and the windows in the building leads the viewer’s eye down to the group of people. There is a visual tension within this group. The man in the left-hand corner of the picture is leaning forward connecting him to the four people in front of him, leaning backwards with the inclination of their body connecting the left-hand side of the painting to the background: road, cornfield, mountains and sky which create long strong lines leading out of the frame of the picture. As in the Sea Watchers,  the figures are placed in a large, flat, sun-lit surface whose triangular shape leads out of the frame of the picture. Hopper gives us no clue as to what the subjects are watching. However, the similarity of the structure and composition of so many of the paintings in which people are looking into the sunlight suggests that there is some common element, perhaps some universal vision that they are either contemplating or waiting upon. The man who is reading a book in People in the Sun echoes the man in Excursion into philosophy. One is reading a book, the other has just finished. qwe Jo Hopper suggested that the book in Excursion into philosophy was Plat but provided no more commentary than this cryptic comment. Ant there is little to be gained by way of explanation of the significance of people reading in Hopper’s paintings but it is a motif that he returned to numerous occasions.

Other Hopper Blogs

Hopper’s Sunlight Paintings: Ideal Forms and Shadows

Edward Hopper: the Sunlight pictures (i)

Edward Hopper: travellers going nowhere

Hopper’s travellers (ii)

Edward Hopper’s Travellers

Edward Hopper – “Lighthouse at Two Lights”

Edward Hopper: Couples at Crossroads

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Hopper’s Sunlight Paintings: Ideal Forms and Shadows

Hopper’s Excursion into Philosophy is an interesting counterpoint to Morning Sun and Woman in the Sun. In Excursion into Philosophy, the subject, a man sits on a bed with a woman behind him and a book beside him. In  Morning Sun and Woman in the Sun. the subject is bathed in the light from the window  but is engaged either through a sense of anticipation for contemplation of the source of light from beyond the window.


In Excursion into Philosophy,  a man sits contemplating a patch of light on the carpet. His only connection to the patch of light is his shoe. Is he testing the water?


Jo [Hopper's wife] recorded cryptically, “The open book is Plato, re-read too late.” Re-read by whom we wonder? By the artist? By the man in the painting? We can only speculate. But the reference to Plato is informative. In Plato’s Dialogues, Socrates argues that physical objects are shadows of their ideal form, an image of the real world. The shadows of the world that we see in it is worth noting that Hopper’s paintings are full of shadows.

Does the  rectangle of light in Excursion into Philosophy represent the ideal world?  And has the man in the painting turned his back on the shadow world to contemplate the ideal which is manifest only in the form of light? It’s an intriguing thought.

There’s an interesting visual connection between the ideal world of the light, the book on Plato and the woman on the bed. The folds of a woman’s bottom are echoed in the folds in the book.

Arse and philosophy

Both are half bathed in light. Two ends of the spectrum: the sensual and the philosophical, both with their ideal and shadow form. The man has turned his back on both and is dipping his tone in the ideal world.

Hopper’s treatment of sunlight on the floor is similar in Summer in the City  although the emotional content of the painting is quite different.


Here a woman who is also completely illuminated by the light from the window, sits on a bed with her feet resting on the edge of a sunlit rectangle of carpet in an echo of Excursion into Philosophy and, in terms of composition, the two paintings are almost mirror images of each other.


Sunlight also falls on the lower legs of both of the figure on the bed linking the two figures in terms of composition and lighting. The relationship between each of the two figures in the paintings is, as it is in so many of Hopper’s paintings, difficult to interpret. Clearly, the two figures have turned their backs on each other but for reasons that we can only guess. The both the main figures appear lost in thought but there is a sense of despondency and forbearance in Summer in the City  that is not quite so dominant in Excursion into Philosophy.

Other Hopper Blogs

Sunlight and structure: Hopper’s Sun Watchers

Edward Hopper: the Sunlight pictures (i)

Edward Hopper: travellers going nowhere

Hopper’s travellers (ii)

Edward Hopper’s Travellers

Edward Hopper – “Lighthouse at Two Lights”

Edward Hopper: Couples at Crossroads

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Coal, energy and trouble for the Australian economy

While the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has been extolling the virtues of coal for humanity and demonstrating, yet again his complete lack of understanding of the dynamics of climate change, there have been a couple of news items that spell long-term trouble for the Australian economy and in particular the coal industry

 There will be some nasty surprises for Tony Abbott and for the coal industry

There will be some nasty surprises for Tony Abbott and for the coal industry

Lockheed Martin Corp.’s secretive Skunk Works unit, which designed the U-2 spy plane and F-117 stealth fighter jet, is developing a reactor to harness nuclear fusion, the process that powers the sun. The reactor would be small enough to fit in a truck and generate enough energy to light 80,000 homes, the Bethesda-based company said Wednesday.

“They are smaller, so the amount of radioactivity contained in each reactor is less,” writes John Wheeler at This Week in Nuclear. “So much less,” he writes, “that even if the worse case reactor accident occurs, the amount of radioactive material released would not pose a risk to the public.” Hyperion-and-Babcock-Wilcox-Small-Reactors

Australia is still some no way near a universal acceptance of nuclear power generation. However, with safer and cheaper reactors available and the consequences and effects of burning coal for power generation becoming more severe, public opinion could very easily shift.

There are also significant improvements in the development and production of renewable energy storage.

Researchers at MIT are developing a new device that has the potential to hold as much energy as a conventional battery but could be recharged in seconds rather than hours, would last almost indefinitely, and won’t mind the cold. The device could prove the first economically viable alternative to today’s battery. It could one day yield a practical all-electric car and provide electricity storage critical to using intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind.

This technology is being picked up by entrepreneurial energy companies.

SolarCity, the nation’s largest residential solar installer and financier, is coupling Tesla’s battery-based energy storage hardware with its rooftop solar systems.

Palo Alto-based Tesla  which currently manufactures electrical cars, is ramping up manufacturing to reach the full capacity of its Fremont factory, with the goal of making half a million cars a year by 2020. To drive down the cost of batteries, it plans to break ground this month on a massive “gigafactory” for battery production that is expected to produce more batteries than currently are being made globally. The batteries are not just for Tesla’s cars but also for Tesla’s product line for stationary storage.

The Tesla S is available in Australia

The Tesla S is available in Australia

New formulation leads to improved liquid battery. Cheaper, longer-lasting materials could enable batteries that make wind and solar energy more competitive. Funding for the project is being provided by Bill Gates.

The world is moving towards a seismic shift in the way it generates, stores and uses energy. And there are no indications that the smart money or the clever thinker is backing  coal.

There are also signs of the world is moving away from dirty coal, admittedly not the kind that Australia produces but the Chinese, who are amongst the biggest consumers of Australia’s coal, are showing signs that they are concerned about the polluting effects of this fuel and moving towards less polluting and cheaper energy sources.

When the technology, either solar storage or efficient and safe nuclear generation make the technological jump to cheaper and easily distributed production capabilities, sales of coal will move to zero as countries shift to clean a more efficient sources.

We’ve always known that this would eventually happen.

But now, it appears that the technology is a point where it’s likely there will be what is termed a “catastrophe shift” in both generation and storage. Catastrophe shifts are not always bad, they are simply large and rapid changes in any system state. The problem with catastrophe shifts is that they are difficult to predict, (like scientific breakthroughs or accidents) and even more difficult to  predict and plan for.

Small shifts in demand and production for coal is already producing severe effects on some NSW towns which are dependent on coal industry. The effect of the collapse of demand will be catastrophic (in the very bad sense). The problem is that the ” head in the sand” attitude of the Abbott government means that there will be absolutely no planning for the situation and the social and economic consequences will be far reaching and severe.

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Can there be a “Just War”?

The speed with which the US-led coalition has charged into Iraq end the justifications that have been advanced for this leads to the question of whether this war is morally and ethically justified.

The idea of a “just war” was first discussed in the Indian epic, the Mahabharata (which probably dates from around 400 BC) and the ideas were refined by Saint Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas and numerous philosophers since then.


In essence the argument boils down to a just war being able to meet all of the following criteria:

1  A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.

2  A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority, just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups

3  A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered.

4  A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success.

5  T he ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. The peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.

6  The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered.

7  The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and    non-combatants. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

In examining the current war in Iraq, any assessment against these criteria indicates the difficulty in defining a  “just war”.

The first criterion is that war is a last resort. All other considerations aside, it is difficult to imagine what avenues were open to the  US-led coalition in the face of the the military incursions of ISIS an organisation which sees the death of all who oppose it as its primary goal.

A tick in this box

The second criterion is that of legitimate authority. In this case, a legitimate authority could be deemed a nationstate or a collection of nation states. The highest order of legitimate authority in such situations is arguably, the United Nations. In this case, the war has not been sanctioned by the United Nations has been sanctioned by the legitimate authority of the nation states that are participating.

Another tick.

The third criterion is re-dressing a wrong suffered. This is a little more problematic. It is difficult to argue in the case of most countries in the coalition (sixty countries are now participating to some degree in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria, according to the Obama administration).   The justification for Australian participation in this war rests mainly on the anticipation of wrong that will be done by returning Stranded nationals who have fought with ISIS.

No tick in this box.

The fourth criterion is a reasonable chance of success.  Assessing this really depends on the definition of success. Opinion on this is going to vary widely but there is a substantial body of opinion, even some highly ranked US military officials, that the current campaign of air strikes is likely to be ineffectual against what appears to be disbursed, but highly effective, guerrilla force. It may well be that the coalition will be forced to provide ground troops, something that President Obama is clearly loathe to do. History shows that committing ground troops in Afghanistan and in Iraq in the past has been a failure on a number of very broad fronts. It  is questionable whether committing ground troops in large numbers will even neutralise ISIS, let alone eradicate it.

Probably no tick.

The fifth criteria is to re-establish peace.  It will be difficult to remember the last time there was peace in this region. Even in the days of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein there was war between Iraq and Iran for eight years in the 1980s and  in which at the very least half a million and possibly twice as many troops were killed on both sides. So defining just which pieces going to be re-established will be difficult. In addition, there is the question of the Syrian civil war and the conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish PKK which has been going on since the mid-1980s. It therefore looks as if peace in this region is a pipe dream.

No tick in this box

The sixth criteria is that the violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered.  It has already been argued that it is difficult to sustain a position that the members of the coalition have suffered any wrong. It is therefore difficult to argue that any level force is proportional. In terms of absolute firepower, it is quite clear that the coalition outmuscles ISIS and  combined air forces of the coalition clearly have the ability to inflict far more widespread damage than the ground-based ISIS forces.

No tick in this box

The seventh and final criteria is that the participants must discriminate between combatants and  non-combatants. There is evidence in the fact that the RAAF has now flown something  around 40 combat missions and dropped bombs on only two of these, that in Australia’s case at least, some attention is being paid to this. However, news coverage of the coalition’s bombing of Kobane makes it difficult to think that they will not be civilian casualties as they have been in every other war. The bombing of Baghdad in the 2003 war in Iraq resulted in over 6500 civilian casualties.

No tick in this box.

This assessment indicates that only the first and second criteria have been met, with the fourth being a work in progress.

This assessment does not weight the value of the seven criteria. It simply says that all must be met. Yet it could be argued that the first criterion  “war is a last resort” outweighs all the others. The determination of ISIS to slaughter all those whose religious views do not align with their own makes negotiation and peace-seeking efforts futile.

The moral dilemma that we face is how to come to terms with and minimise the impact of radical groups such as ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Can there be political accommodation with groups such as these?  It would seem that while the massive military operations of the last two decades may have weakened Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Islamic extremism and militarism keeps surfacing in the Middle East.

The fundamental difficulties  posed by the fault lines of nationalism and religious sectarianism which had been a facet of life in the region for thousands of years. The sobering bitter truth is that it may take as long to resolve these problems and that a “just war” is looking for a quick fix that will only contribute to the ongoing problems.

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