Mugshots: Hopper

I don’t know that I have an answer to this one:

This is a mug I bought at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993, I think, a visit about which there will be another mug and another post later.

Nighthawks, by Edward Hopper, is one of my favorite paintings, and I cannot tell you why.  That’s the neurosis we will explore in a moment.








It is such a favorite that my lovely first wife actually gave me a very nice print of it.  I had it framed, and she suffered me to hang it in the bedroom:

And I have a t-shirt that is in my GHP bin:

It is a great irony that when I was at the Art Institute gift shop and saw the mug and knew I had to have it, it wasn’t until I bought the thing that I realized that my favorite painting was hanging in that very building—and I had failed to catch it!  At that point it was too late to re-enter the museum and find the wing I had missed, and so I have never seen my favorite painting face-to-face.  I have the mug, though.

But why?

Again, I have no ready answer.  The piece is generally regarded as emblematic of mid-20th century American disaffection/angst, and I don’t think of myself as that kind of person.

I could be wrong—I have felt that level of ultimate disconnectedness from others around me.  Perhaps the painting evokes that sense of loneliness that I know I have suffered from at different periods of my life, and from which I have fled to GHP and the Lichtenbergians.

Still, in the pie graph of my soul, that slice is such a very small percentage that it cannot explain why I love this painting so.  If I were to choose to live in the world of any painting, I’m sure it would be some Rubensian scene of Dionysian revel, not this silent, clean, brightly lit Moderne eatery with its  coterie of strangers after midnight.

Perhaps I love the depiction of such dark loneliness: spare, elegant, balanced.  If I’m going to descend into the dark night of the soul, this is the way I want it, not some baroque and fussy misery, full of trash cans and derelicts and honking traffic.  Even in my personal hell, I want meditative silence.  (Personal heaven, of course, is Rubensian Dionysism.)

As for ritual, this mug doesn’t really have any attached to it.  I never, for example, picked it up to signal any kind of weariness or despair, because 1) that’s not who I am; and 2) that would be cheesy.  If I used it for any kind of signifier, it would have to be in the same vein as the t-shirt: Yo, I’m an art geek, and this is the way I roll. Hopper.  Yeah, that’s right.  ::nods smugly::  How about another cuppa joe there…


3 thoughts on “Mugshots: Hopper

  1. Never thought to ponder this picture till I read your post. Thanks. And the first thing I note, after setting aside all of the psychoanalytic claptrap that floods in first, is the enormity of the windows, particularly the front window. It frames. It frames at the scale of one of your massive Baroque fantasies, and yet, well, it isn’t a Baroque fantasy. But it sets a huge expectation for an image. Ambitious to have such a large canvas. And to have nothing there. It’s just a hole. Big window. Not a painting.

  2. I never knew you liked this painting so. It is my favorite painting of all time. And I too couldn’t tell you why. I know fuck all about art, so I’m afraid I’m one of those “I don’t know art, but I know what I like” fellows, and I know I like this.

    Every time I go to Chicago, I can’t leave without going to see this painting. There’s something spectacular about seeing where the brush strokes are in it. I think I’ve been to see it six or seven times. And every time it holds me there for at least a half an hour. It’s as though it’s forcing me to pay attention to it.

    My mind goes off in a million directions when I look at it. None of which do I think I could articulate at the moment. I know what I like. I used to have a print hanging up, but it got destroyed in a move somewhere along the way, and I haven’t got around to replacing it.

    Incidentally, I saw a play in San Francisco once called Hopper. The first and last moment of the play were this scene. I don’t remember what he play was about because it was pretty dumb, but I hadn’t thought about it until just now.

  3. Marc: Yes, the window. At first I didn’t even realize it was a window, thinking it was an open-air diner, but then you see the curved corner and realize, crap, that’s a huge piece of glass! It’s the kind of architectural bravura in such a modest place that I don’t think we see much any more, so maybe nostalgia is part of my reaction to the painting.

    Mike: I am so jealous. Now I’m going to have to go to Chicago just to see the painting.

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