Edward Hopper's subtle dramas

Edward hopper's figures live in worlds of their own. He was himself a loner, though long married. As a painter he also doubtless spent much of his time alone, except when working from a model.

But even his model was not from the outside; his wife posed for the women in his pictures. She had been an actress, as well as a painter, before they met. Both loved the theater. And he cast her in many different roles in his art.

Hopper's pictures have about them the rather unreal aspect of scenes watched onstage. Scenes of human action - or inaction. His people perform mute dramas. Frequently under artificial lighting.

As in "Two on the Aisle," Hopper's characters are often psychologically isolated from one another. This is so even in places like a theater or a cafe (favorite Hopper subjects), where lots of people congregate. With unforgettable originality, he conveys the separateness of individuals.

In one sense, a play's audience is a large responsive unit. But it is quite usual for people to sit next to total strangers without any contact passing between them. A play can be an experience shared by the mutually ignored.

Hopper is a master of the waiting moment. In this theater painting, he does not show the play starting, or in full dramatic swing. Instead, he recalls, in his economical style, the feeling of people who arrive early.

The woman in the box reads her program. The woman in the front row arranges her coat over the seat. The man slowly removes his coat. It will be 20 minutes before the rest of the audience crowds in. Yet this frozen - even boring - moment is instilled with strange, premature drama.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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