Alone Again

Neil Diamond said that he would remain a solitary man until he could find the girl who would stay with him and won’t play games.  George Thorogood sang ‘I Drink Alone’, Bill Withers said there ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ when you are gone, while Céline Dion wanted to be all by herself.  Around 1903, Edward Hopper painted his Solitary Figure in a Theater when he was barely in his twenties, before he made his famous trip to Paris to discover the French avant-garde.  Hopper achieved success with this stripped-down image and this uniquely urban and desolate realist developed a style that was existentially isolated being engaged in transcendental silence.  This smallish monochromatic oil painting may have been inspired by the early silent black and white movies of the time.  Linda Pastan an American poet of Jewish background wrote a poem to explain this painting.

An empty theatre: seats
shrouded in white
like rows of headstones;
the curtain about to rise
(or has it fallen?)
on a scene
of transcendental
silence.

And the audience?
A solitary figure sheathed
in black, a woman
in a hat perhaps
(more abstract
shape than woman)
sitting alone
in the cavernous dark.

This is quintessential Hopper—
cliché of loneliness
transformed by brushstroke
into something part paint,
part desperation.
“Oil on board,” the label says,
as if even a tree
had to be sacrificed.

Hopper painted a lone female figure, sitting in the front row with her elbow gently propped up against an armrest, and her left hand is holding something white, perhaps a program or paper.  Hopper paid great attention to the nonhuman ingredients of the theater, like the shafts of light piercing through seat backs, the large, open gray stage curtain above the woman’s head, one which makes her look tiny as it takes up almost half of the painting.  Hopper conjured a moment between shows and painted the solitude of waiting or lingering.  He evoked the morbidity and redundancy of theater space in the absence of its crowd.

Hopper’ base primer is a thick light gray.  The rich texture of horizontal, wavy bands along with layers of darker gray and then smokier gray diagonal and vertical brushwork are dotted with flecks of white.  This lends an uncertain spatial value to everything in the painting, making it hard to pin down exact physical placement and relations.  The painting was bituminized, (Bitumen is a naturally-occurring, non-drying, tarry substance used in paint mixtures, especially to enrich the appearance of dark tones and this became very popular as a paint additive in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries) creating an ageing effect which produced a sense of dust, further enhancing this sense of elusive dimensions and properties.

Written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Tale Weaver #244 hosted by Michael – October 10 – Why is your figure solitary and the song above pretty much sums this up for me.

18 thoughts on “Alone Again

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