227 Dallas, TX: One-Percenters

The main artsy strip that my friend in Chicago who grew up in Dallas told me to check out was a two-mile stretch of Greenville Avenue. To get there, I had to drive on Lover's Lane, which sounded like it could be a Hopper painting title. On the strip I found the Hopperesque Arcadia and Granada theaters now occupied by bars.

I stopped to CD shop at a music store and asked the young guy behind the counter about my project. He had a mop of black hair and thick, square, black glass-frames. He was clad in a blue sweatshirt with a crazy wavy pattern on his chest.

"Dallas is a very isolated city. We're about to elect as mayor a woman who's racist. But, apparently, nobody cares. I was born and raised in Dallas. I think that Hopper's version of America's isolation was romanticized. People aren't that romantic about the notion of rugged individualism. I thought Hopper was going for that kind of vibe, because the people are there in light and there's darkness all around them. It's kind of like a cocoon. Like he's trying to portray it positively.

"You know, the writer Stuart Dybek, who's one of my favorites, wrote a short story called 'Nighthawks'? In that story, there are people who are all alone, but they've come together. That's what I think of when I think of Hoppers. These people may come together, so they're not really isolated, even though each one seems to be in their own little world.

"I'm Danny, by the way. My girlfriend is a painter and works at the museum. You should meet us tonight at the New Amsterdam Café. There's a writer's group meeting there."

The café was in Fair Park, an Art Deco complex where the state fair was held. The Age of Steam Railroad Museum was housed here. Old Hopper era trains rested on the grounds. They were not as well kept as the Pullmans in the Indianapolis Hotel, that's for darn sure. In the parking lot, a bunch of guys were revving their motorcycles, and a line-up of State Police was passing muster under the scrutiny of a sergeant. The police, apparently, store their horses out here.

This was an urban pioneer's neighborhood where warehouses had been transformed into art galleries, and this cafe was one of the hip local watering holes. The café was dark and woody. As I arrived, the writers' group was just breaking up. I saw Danny, and he introduced me to his girlfriend Trish. Trish's hair curled around her ear, and her hands moved quickly as she spoke.

"Intuitively," she began, "I see a lot of Diebenkorn in his work, especially in his perspective, the flat planes. Diebenkorn did an homage to Automat. Hopper's night scenes are compelling. The colors of the night scenes are great: serene, but there is a tension in the figures. They are solid but vulnerable. Reminds me of David Lynch movies. Did he do Christina's World?" she asked.

He did not. But in the museum's files, I had seen an article having Morning Sun right below Christina's World. It was written in Japanese, but presumably it was showing the same connection.

"Hopper's paintings are like Twilight Zone," Danny chipped in. "Nighthawks, the people are drawn to the bright café like moths to a light. It's like hyperrealism. It's a subjective reality. I think of Eastern philosophy when I see his paintings. They make me think of Jung; they're archetypal. And we have pathologized the loners. We think they're sad. But they may not be. Art is partly audience response. So I guess they are about the isolation. Hopper was lucky; what it must feel like to finally achieve what you're working toward.

"I think that all artists are isolated. We're one-percenters, the artists. We're unlike 99% of the people. But artists need you relating to their work; they're not isolated culturally. That's part of the point [of art]. Hopper just tuned in to it, because everybody is isolationist. We have a private and public self. Personal isolation is not political isolation. People don't feel whole. There is no whole, just a becoming. You think you are some idealized you that you are always becoming. Its like a silhouette: it's not you, but people can recognize you from it. People have a nostalgia for isolation. Hopper and J.D. Salinger played on that. Tennessee Williams did the same thing.

One of the other writers, Alberto, was interested in my question and bent my ear. He was tall and lanky, with a mop of dark kinky hair and café-au-lait skin. He had a slender face, a long thin nose, and bright green eyes.

"I'm starting a poetry workshop," he intoned in a cool baritone, lounging like a laid-back jazz musician, "because I feel a little isolated. I used to live in New York. In Dallas I have trouble motivating myself and feeling the buzz. When I was living in New York, I couldn't even get halfway through a shower without thinking, 'hey, I know something is going on somewhere; I'm missing something.' I'd rush out of the shower and call a friend. And sure enough they'd be like, 'Well, yeah, there's a reading going on I'm heading out to.'"

"I work in a gallery. The stuff that they're showing …?" He shook his head. "The woman who runs it has an 18-year-old son who said, 'Mom, the audience just isn't going to get this stuff.'"

After that, I went to pay the bartender, who had insisted all night that I could pay on my way out. I had assumed this was part of Southern Hospitality.

"I'm not used to that," I told him. "In Chicago, people would just run out."

"You're in Texas now," he grinned. "We all have guns."

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