It has been a raucous week, though more aptly, a raucous year. The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the world, resulting in over one million deaths worldwide, and 200,000 within the United States alone.
An economic downturn has put millions out of work and left them with bills and rent that they cannot pay. A contentious presidential election has sowed division, confusion and doubt, capped with a debate that can only be termed chaotic.
Contrast this with Edward Hopper’s “Office in a Small City,” from 1953, now hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Not as famous as his “Nighthawks,” which portrays late-night diner-goers on a deserted urban street, this work depicts a man, sitting alone gazing out of his office window at a clear horizon and a modest skyline.
Edward Hopper is commonly considered the pinnacle artist of American Realism. Having suffered from deep depression earlier in his career, his naturalistic, yet mundane subjects are often said to be influenced by that time in his life. This even includes those painted decades into his happy marriage with painter, and fellow recluse, Josephine Nivison.
It is widely accepted that the man in this piece sits physically and emotionally detached from life around him, perhaps in reflection. But, while most believe this to be an image of loneliness, it may also be a scene of temporary escape. An escape from his surroundings, from his work and from his world. Such escapism can be felt by the audience too.
This picture is a perfect still-life. Though no sound can ever be heard from a canvas, this work seems extraordinarily silent. The bright colors, straight lines and tranquil mood of the painting actually lend to it an air of idyllism.
You must note, however, that life was not so simple when Hopper was painting this work. The Korean War had just come to a close, the Red Scare was peaking in its intensity and the fear of nuclear annihilation was ever prevalent in American society.
This is a faux-reality; something he created.
Those viewing his works in the era they were made knew this too. But it offered an escape, a portal into a world of serenity, yet not dullness.
This is a chief reason why his art is so relevant today. We are always seeking an escape into an alternative reality. Through books, movies and our daydreams, we go to another place. Hopper helps you on your journey there.
He provides a still space for you to step into and just relax. So indulge. Sit down for a few minutes and gaze into his world, leaving our current world with all the stress, anxiety and chaos that comes with it, behind.