239 Tempe, AZ: House by a Road

Tiffany, the woman who showed me the Hopper, had a small hawk-like nose, big green eyes, small red lips, and blond hair flaring out halfway down her back, where it ended in an even cut. Her arms emerged from a black ribbed sleeveless top she wore above a print skirt. On at least four of her eight fingers, she wore ornate gold rings with a different type of stone in each one.

"I was born and raised in Phoenix proper," she said. "My grandfather moved here from Chicago because of his asthma. At that time, it was all orange groves, and the road was a dirt road. It's congested now and maybe not as isolated as it used to be, although Americans are very isolated. Computers are making it worse."

I looked through the files while a docent worked at the next table. She had fluffed white hair and her glasses looked enormous on her shrunken, wrinkled face. She heard my question about Hopper and volunteered her opinions.

"I lived in New York my whole life," she answered. "Then Connecticut, then I came out here. I love Hopper. I love his colors, and I love his sense of solitude."

"Loneliness," Tiffany offered.

"No," the docent quietly re-asserted. "Solitude. His characters all seem to me like they're working through a problem, and he puts you in a place where you feel like you are in the painting. I think we all reach a point where we want to be in that place of solitude in our life."

The gray house that is the subject of this painting is a sprawling jumble of architectural forms, like in Pittsburgh’s Cape Cod Afternoon but without any color. The sky at upper right is dark gray, as if a storm were brewing, and the tree swirls in the wind. House by a Road was painted in 1940: the Depression at home and war rumbling abroad.

During its painting, Jo jotted, "E. painted little grey house. It's taking so long & isn't a bit like the find he made down Eastham back road [Terre Haute’s Route 6, Eastham]. No good specially until the sun went down then it took on a dignity, ghostliness of color; something crustaceous in quality. …the small trees at the sides became head & arms that reached out & swayed. E. isn't getting any of this & it isn't that he didn't see it. E. sais [sic] one can't often, if ever, get just what one wants, it always turns out to be something different."

A playful letter from one museum director to another said, "I will be glad to loan you the Hopper, which, by the way, I dislike intensely. Why in the hell are you doing a Hopper exposition? We had one … and I hope never to see another. Very seriously, a Hopper show could be significant if a catalog could document his work and life to indicate his strong anti-Semitic and leftist activity prior to World War II. I'm afraid that the younger generation is inclined to recognize Hopper as a fun-like satirist. Actually, he was a boiling rebel, perhaps, 'refolutionary' would be a more apt adjective. If you have time read Whitaker Chambers and his dealings with Hopper." 1

1I had trouble tracking these down, and found very little to support these claims when I did.

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