Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Sunday Sunlight


It is Sunday.

A man sits alone and pensive, on a low boardwalk, before some buildings, in the sun, smoking a cigar.

Who is this man and what is he doing here?

Does he have some business that connects him with the darkened and boarded-up windows at his back?

Are they the windows of shops?

Are the shops closed, or have the owners merely gone off for the day, or perhaps the weekend, to return on Monday?

Is the man sitting here to kill time, because he has nothing else to do?

Does this appear to be the sort of place in which there would be a great many things for a man like this to be doing on a Sunday?

Is he perhaps waiting?

Is he waiting for someone?

If it were you he were waiting for, and you knew this, and were approaching from somewhere outside the frame, and he had not yet seen you, and there were still time for you to stop, and turn back, and decline to enter the picture, so that he would be left there forever to wait, in exactly this pose, sitting alone on this sad low narrow boardwalk, frozen in the thin warmthless unwelcoming American nowhere Sunday sunlight, is that what you would decide to do?

Sunday: Edward Hopper, 1926 (The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.)


Anonymous said...

I have a more optimistic interpretation. I don't think the shop's boarded up I think it's just closed and has a drab, brownish interior. Probably it's his shop. He lives upstairs; the front door is open and he's out there having a smoke and thinking how it's too bad he can't do this during business hours. I wouldn't turn around if I saw him.. From where he's sitting he might not see me, he'd have the sun in his eyes. Why does he wear those elasticized things to keep your sleeves out of the way when it's a Sunday? Perhaps he's stock-taking.

Julia said...

I'm coming from AJP's Bad Guide... where you talked about shadows. Now I see this Hopper's man has no shadow... So I can't avoid the idea that this man is not really there, in flesh and bones, I mean. May he be a former clerk...? haunting the place, of course.

Beautiful text! I love Hopper, his paintings always seems to have the aura of a dream.

TC said...

Arthur and Julia,

Thanks for coming to view our Sunday Sunlight on a dark Sunday morning upon which the rain is cascading pleasantly down through our new gutters like a smaller version of Victoria Falls.

I've always thought the fellow in the painting bore a close resemblance to...Edward Hopper.

(That photo was taken about three years after the painting was done.)

Arthur, your reading provides a useful corrective, for balance.

The sleeve-bands do suggest clerk. Though they were common and general for men in the era, considered especially useful when slipping on a jacket.

A break from stock-taking, fair enough. He does look a bit weary.

But if those are shops, it doesn't look like the stock, if any, has been moving swiftly enough of late to need so very much taking account of as all that.

A further caveat to "interpreters" of, erm, my ilk: the Hopper scholar and critic Gail Levin, talking of Hopper's paintings of solitary figures (she is speaking specifically of the solitary figures of women, but perhaps this applies here as well), says "critics have often misinterpreted these solitary figures as symbolic of loneliness, rather than comprehended Hopper's personal preference for quiet and solitude."

However I find it hard to read these figures as emotionally "neutral".

The sense of distance and disconnection is certainly not a social feeling nor one of warmth, nor serenity.

The burden of time passing, melancholy if not tragic, seems to me to weigh upon the figures. This is entirely my projection, of course.

About the backdrop storefronts, if indeed that's what they are: I've just spent four months going through thousands of thumbnails of the Farm Security Administration photo project archive and the Roosevelt Library photo archive, from the 1930s, and seen an awful lot of boarded up storefronts. I am seeing boarded up storefronts on the main streets here, now, also. Economic bad times produce boarded up storefronts.

On the other hand, this painting was executed in 1926, before "the economy" went so terribly wrong.

Anonymous said...

I suppose bankruptcy wasn't unknown before the depression. The space's interior shadows (in contrast to next door, which has none and looks like there's a blind drawn) make me think it's a big empty room: either a diner that's closed or a store that's currently empty, and that adds to the loneliness. I would go up to him if I knew him, Tom.

TC said...

That's because you are a kind man, Arthur.

He might well be surprised, but less surprised than grateful.

It's been all these years, after all.

Anonymous said...

I suppose he has visitors.



It is Sunday, back in Standard Time, the rain is falling, the man is alone with his thoughts -- what is it that he's thinking. . . .


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, shadowed green of leaf on branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

passing in repeated pattern,
surface close to line

nor subject matter, signals
there, “single glance”

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
whiteness of gull circling across ridge

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Strictly tangential, but to lighten the mood a bit - Gail Levin, in her book called "Hopper's Places," recounts the story of her quest to find the real life places Hopper depicted in his work, which she would then photograph and place side by side with the painting.

She was having a great deal of difficulty locating one particular home and had been driving around an area for quite sometime when she spotted the house. She noticed a man painting the exterior and so got out and approached the man saying, in her enthusiasm, Did you know that Edward Hopper painted this house?

And he replied (paraphrasing as its been 20 years since I read her wonderful book): Lady, I don't know who painted it before, but I'm painting it now.

Thanks for the wonderful excavation of this painting, Tom.

TC said...

Yes, it does seem visitors are permitted.

We are all painting the house together.

TC said...


He estado pensando en esto:

"No puedo evitar la idea de que este hombre no está realmente allí, en carne y hueso, quiero decir. ¿Puede ser un ex empleado de ...? Habitan el lugar, por supuesto.

"... Me encanta Hopper, su pintura siempre parece tener el aura de un sueño."

Este domingo fue un día de lluvia aquí ... Dormí un poco, y soñaba con un gran diluvio. En este sueño, las calles estaban inundadas. Un hombre alto y calvo, de mediana edad, se acercó a mí.

"Puede permanecer seco en mi oficina", dijo, asintiendo con la cabeza en dirección a una hilera de edificios abandonados de madera.

Julia said...

Oh, Tom! Hopper (or my idea of Hopper) has entered in your sleep!

Creo también que la amabilidad AJP también influyó: un desconocido te invita a protegerte de la lluvia.

Los cuadros de Hopper hacen estas cosas :-)

Thanks for sharing this with us.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate all the helpful questions, which guided me through the painting. To me, this picture prefigures scenes, moods and effects used on The Twilight Zone television series. Nothing is reliably "real". I can't recall a Hopper quite like it. I feel confident that I would enter the frame. I would not turn away. That is not what I would decide to do.

Sandra.if said...

I would approach to the pensive man...his solitude makes me feel interested in him

Sandra.if said...

(this is my other blog)

TC said...

Curtis and Sandra,

Yes, in this scene, however literal things appear, still "nothing is reliably 'real'", as Curtis suggests.

This reminds us that, as Julia says, these solitary figures of Hooper's appear very much like figures in dreams.

Still, it is reassuring to hear that people would be willing to take the small gamble, and enter the frame.

As for me, whether in "reality" or in dreams, I am always inclined to take a chance and talk to strangers.

(Of course, this does not always prove to be such a good idea, in the doing...)

Sandra, you new post on la mano negligente perhaps asks these same questions.

I have left a comment there, but it may have disappeared into the Twilight Zone.

Here it was, perhaps relevant also to this conversation:

El misterio no reside en lo que vemos, sino en lo que somos incapaces de ver.

Lo que vemos es lo que ya pasó.

Lo que no podemos ver es lo que está por venir.

TC said...

I'm pretty sure the painting is real, though. We haven't dreamed it.