Alone In Public


James Polchin wonders what makes Edward Hopper such an iconic American artist. He finds one answer in a Paris retrospective of the painter's work:

To encounter Hopper’s paintings beyond their iconic aura, beyond the American geographies of hotel rooms, and apartment windows, of street facades and roadside gas stations, we can see how obsessed they are with turning privacy into a public spectacle, and public spectacle into mystery. As the poet Mark Strand has recently noted, standing in front of a Hopper painting "is as if we were spectators at an event we were unable to name; we feel the presence of what is hidden, of what surely exists but is not revealed."

I wonder if this too was something he learned in Paris, not from the paintings in the Louvre, but rather his wanderings along the streets and cafes of the city.

If anything Hopper in Paris gives us a different insight into our idea of expatriate Paris in the early 20th century. Not everyone was having a party, or talking about modernism. Some wandered the city alone. In Paris, he explored an aesthetic of voyeurism and spectatorship that would become central to his paintings for the rest of his life. Hopper’s canvases present dramas without scripts, actions without stories, and scenes that are hauntingly more mental than material, turning these American scenes of solitude into alluring and enigmatic uncertainties.

("Neo-Nighthawks, after Edward Hopper" by Mike Licht)