Today, I went to see the mega-blowout artshow showing fifty works by Edward Hopper. The show was sold out for all the half-hour entrance timeslots for the entire day so it's a good thing that I got my ticket online. Beyond my expectations, the collection of works was an emotional experience.
Working at a time where all brands of realism were bubbling to the surface, Hopper set himself apart. While he shares the desire to portray reality with the artists of the Ashcan school, he throws away the low-class grit to display something else entirely.
Aside from his completely humanless scenes by the sea, Hopper's depiction of urban life reflects the very anonymity of modern life. Buildings dominate a scene with a lone undecipherable woman sitting on a window sill, perhaps thinking and reflecting. Standing in front of Hopper's scene of a cafe with all its inhabitants either with their backs turned to the viewer or with their faces hidden, you can't help but feel that isolation. In the city, life is framed by structures, it doesn't exist freely. In their quietness, Hopper's scenes weigh down the heart. We've all felt it: knowing that we are the only ones living our entire lives.
While most of his canvases only display a lone figure, a few depict a few people in the same scene. A caption described it perfectly: the solitariness of the individual even when in the company of others. The iconic Nighthawks and Office at Night show at least two people but break any connection that brings them together. Their relationships seem like they are on two levels, ambiguous, unspoken, unheard. One of the last canvases showed a couple at the beach both staring out into space, together but somehow both alone. It seemed that Hopper struggled to bring this idea to the surface of his canvases, expressing a jarring subject in a simple way. Leaving the exhibit, seeing the final image of an empty room filled with the light of the setting sun, you can't help but feel heavy-hearted. But that is the mark of great art, that which can communicate a universal idea and capture a moment in times without words, just brushstrokes.