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 He has withdrawn into reading his newspaper, she sits by the piano idly tapping on the keys.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.
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.
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