The metaphor of the journey creates a common theme in Hopper’s painting. He frequently paints his subjects in mid-journey, paused in a hotel room, in a lobby or on a hotel bed. These pauses are often disconnected from both the past and future.
Often Hopper will paint people who are engaged, or appear to be engaged, in the journey as in the Chair Car .
Here a woman is seated in what is ostensibly a railway carriage but which looks more like some kind of vault with a blank door sealing the exit. The characters are flooded with yellow-green light and, strangely, the woman on the right-hand side of the car does not appear to cast a shadow. There is no landscape to be seen outside, the windows giving the impression that the characters travelling through space with no connection to any other reality.
The woman on the left appears to be directing an intense gaze at the red-head who’s reading a book and either oblivious of, or studiously avoiding, the attention. The absence of an exterior landscape makes attention between these two women the central focus of the painting. Like so many of the situations in Hopper’s paintings, we have no idea what’s gone before or what is likely to happen after. The moment is suspended in time.
The next painting, Intermission, is thematically related to Chair Car. The woman, (is it the same woman?)
is sitting at the front of a row of seats, similar to that in an aircraft or a train. There is a stillness and indifference about her that detaches her from her surroundings. The door next to her is neither an exit nor an entrance but this does not matter to her as her indifference appears to isolate her from any sense that she is interested in moving.
The final explicit picture of a traveler is Compartment.
The tone of this painting is quite different from the others. In Hotel Window, there is a tension between the woman and some unseen point outside. A similar tension exists in Western Motel between the woman sitting on the bed and whoever is entering the room. No such tension exists in Compartment. The young red-haired woman sits relaxed and reading a magazine. There is no tension between her and any point outside the frame of the picture. She is oblivious to the landscape that she is passing through and to the garish green compartment in which she was travelling.
Like the woman in Intermission, she is alone but seems contented and self-sufficient in her concentration on her magazine. Unlike the women in the other paintings, she does not appear to be caught with no apparent connection at some nexus between the past and the future.
An interesting and disconcerting version of a non-journey is the enigmatic People in the Sun
There are hints of an aircraft or train in the way the people have been arranged as people appeared to be sitting in rows waiting for the plane or train to arrive. There is certainly a sense of anticipation, of people who have dressed for a journey and are waiting to go somewhere (will know where). But, as in so many of Hopper’s paintings, the landscape is devoid of detail and of interest, suggesting that no one would wish to go there only travel through. There’s also an absurd sense of people sitting in a solarium, soaking up the rays. But why are a group of well and fully dressed people sitting out the sun? again this painting is reflection of Hopper’s unique ability to be able to separate his subjects from the past and from the future, and in this case from cause-and-effect as well.