A few days ago, I finally had the chance to view Edward Hopper’s paintings in person (along with his preliminary sketches) at the Whitney Museum in New York. They’re even more captivating than I’d hoped, and they perfectly capture the mood of New England. Hopper’s a master at depicting light-filled space, be it an empty room, a movie theater or a street. Each painting is like a capsule in which time stands still. Though his chosen settings are often urban spaces, interestingly they contain none of the bustling activity associated with cities. Instead, all the noise is drawn out and the attention concentrated on a solitary figure or a few figures. The quiet surroundings act as a physical metaphor for their self-contained world of thoughts.

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I found parallel depictions of human experience in this Hopper painting (bottom) and Chambered Nautilus by Andrew Wyeth (top). Both feature a solitary female figure resting on her bed and gazing pensively out of the window, which is a classic motif in art laden with symbolism. Does the window represent her eye- her view of the external world? Perhaps that’s the role of an artist- to evoke universal emotions and create subtle visual poetry.

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