5 Examples of The Subliminal Evocation in an Edward Hopper Painting

This article is a treatment of five Edward Hopper paintings, the famous American realist of whom the art critic Clement Greenberg has said: “Hopper is just a bad painter. But if he had been a better painter, he probably would not have been such a great artist“.

Chop Suey

The window-panes in this Edward Hopper painting seem to resemble the interfaces that emphasize the interior of the restaurant. Geometrical color fields define the window in the background. The window on the right side only allows a limited view. Visible is a facade, a fire escape, a patch of sky and the neon sign of the Chop Suey restaurant. Due to their art nouveau style-like head-gear and their heavily made up faces, the women seem to have a doll-like and rigid impression. This concerns the posture of the woman in the foreground, facing the beholder, but is especially visible on the woman in the background, who has even a more rigid impression. We see her face in profile, like she is a figurehead. The man who is sitting at her table seems self-absorbed, his facial expressions disappear in the shadow.

The heavy made-up faces of the women also suggest temptation. The billboard of the Chop Suey-restaurant reminiscents an entertainment district, the powerful red of the board corresponds with the accentuated mouths of the women and the half-covered letters of the word ‘suey’ are easily associated with the word ‘sex’. The symbols for temptation, desolation and rigidity are directly linked; and just like almost any another Edward Hopper painting, this canvas requires a double vision.

Western Motel

In this Edward Hopper painting entitled Western Motel, the unusually large windows in the composition extend a typical Western scenery. The woman sitting on the bed is not watching the landscape, but in the direction of the viewer. In the whole of the composition she resembles a portrait for a background which seems to be fossilized into a painting. But strangely enough this motel scene connects elements of rigidness and movement. It is true that its signs, the car and street, due to the motionless posture of the woman who is the centre of the painting, have lost their dynamics at first sight. But as a reaction to this, the falling light into the room brings the warm colors as much to life as the landscape, in front of the window, fossilizes them.

While the interior suggests movement, the view on the American landscape changes into a view on a scenery. It recalls a lost domain, a vision on America in days gone by and to the memory of a direct encounter of nature and civilisation. It is the far-reaching experience of the technical civilisation in the New World.

Compartment C

An Edward Hopper painting, that reverts to his earlier designs and at the same time evokes a new effect and a certain surprise on the beholder. On the one side, through the window of the coupé a landscape is visible with the river, the bridge and the dark wood on the horizon showing a boundary of the civilisation within the natural landscape. On the other side, the painting gets his special dynamic through the oblique perspective.

Compartment C also remains ambiguous because of its theme of enclosure, that takes place in relative peace. The play of colors doesn’t intersect the relations between inside and outside completely, but creates contexts; the engrossed reading of the woman is determined by peaceful relaxation and concentration.

New York Movie

The New York Movie-painting has a parallel with the previous Edward Hopper painting Compartment C. Instead of the view through the window in Compartment C the focus here is on a movie screen: together with the audience in the room the admirer of the painting looks at a Alpine landscape. This sight determines only a part of the painting; it is almost lost in the monumentality of the interior which is divided in stage, gradually ceiling layered formations and lamps, columns, curtains, corridor and stairs.

The usherette has the same deepened impression of the train traveler in Compartment C. But apparently this woman is neither interested in the view nor the illusion of the cinema.

Nighthawks

This late and most famous Edward Hopper painting is his only painting that depicts convex glass and makes the glass visible: the space of the bar surrounds the people like a hermetically sealed container. Besides we see a separation of both the urban environment as nature. The night in town is only illuminated by the light in the bar. Because the light enters obliquely, the composition obtains a suggestive dynamic, in which the light becomes the centre of the painting.

Although Hopper points out that he unconsciously had painted “the loneliness of the big city”, at the same time he emphasized the simplicity of the painting, in which he only tried to depict “a restaurant at Greenwich Avenue”, where two streets come together. The canvas is characterized by a psychological tension. To the desolation in the cities and the loneliness of the third bar visitor, the gathering of the couple is added, and on that, the psychological effect is based. Although this Edward Hopper painting emphasizes, by contrasting the bar and the shop in the background, the social environment, it is above all things a projection plane for various fantasies.