It is a reasonably shabby door at the end of a reasonably shabby corridor in the sort of building that was new about the years the all-tile bathroom became the basis of civilisation . . . Come on in - there's nobody in here but me and a big bluebottle fly.
This is the kind of room Edward Hopper paints. There is a man in shirt-sleeves, sometimes a secretary too, or maybe a couple in a hotel room. It is night - the light harshly electric - or, as the bright, low sunlight suggests, the beginning or the end of the day. It might even be 'one of those bright summer mornings we get in California before the high fog sets in'. Although Hopper was from the East Coast, sentences like the ones I've quoted from the opening of Chandler's The Little Sister, and clips from Hollywood gangster movies in which the photography is high-contrast black and white, best set the scene for his paintings. The paintings of George Bellows, say, who earlier recorded the look of urban America, do not imply narratives in the way Hopper's do. His magazine illustrations and the drawings he made for his paintings have much in common. Both make you think about what is going on, what kinds of life are being lived, what will follow. The people you see through the diner window in Nighthawks are isolated from each other. Emotions - 'I'm sad and I'm lonely' - common in songs do not often get into pictures.
LRB 24 June 2004 | PDF Download