1 Hunting Nighthawks

Hunting Nighthawks:

On the Road with Edward Hopper

I sensed trouble. The couple in the restaurant looked fine enough. But she slumped and stared into the distance, and his torso leaned jauntily as if he didn't notice her detachment or care. I suspected they wouldn't be together much longer. I had no real reason to believe this. I couldn't even make out their faces. Besides, they were in a painting: Edward Hopper's

New York Restaurant.

Maybe I felt that way because Hopper's paintings are notorious for showing people isolated from each other and from society. I saw that most notably in his masterpiece Nighthawks, a scene of four lonely souls loitering around an all-night diner counter, which I had pondered often in my hometown Chicago where it hung.

But maybe I interpreted his works that way because I was an aging bachelor and struggling artist who felt unappreciated, much like Hopper, who only became famous for his oil paintings in his late thirties and didn't marry until age 43. I had often been called "intense," "cynical," and other epithets that implied I related to Hopper and his remote characters more than did most; maybe I was even like Hopper or a Hopper character. Or maybe I was falling for the cliché that made Hopper bemoan, "The loneliness thing has been stressed too much."

Was I an unhappy misanthrope, a lone societal castoff, or did others feel isolated in a Hopperesque way? I decided to survey people as an excuse to see in person Hopper's paintings in 47 towns spanning the United States.

I would have no trouble approaching strangers because I'm more loquacious than the notoriously reticent Hopper, though I certainly sympathize with his feeling that folks aren't going to understand when you express yourself in speech or art. My interpretation of the supposed isolation in his paintings was that he captured how unknowable anyone's inner self is. My journey and interviews were attempts, invitations even, to bridge that gap, to offer my inner self and allow others to share theirs with me. I hoped to write about people's answers and my experiences, so that my art would mirror Hopper's, who said, "I never tried to do the American scene. I always wanted to do myself."

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