These days when I look out of the window, I see an Edward Hopper painting. Which is ironic, considering some of his best-known works feature women staring out of the windows of well-lit rooms. Traffic lights flashing red and green, speaking to no one. Tantalisingly empty streets. An eerie calm hanging over shuttered stores. I’ve long been an admirer of the American realist’s scenes of social alienation, but at this time they’ve taken on a prophetic meaning.
Like many great artists, he too struggled with depression. But his canvases – maps of modern loneliness – never, at least to me, provoke despair. There’s too much light, colour and attention to form. They seem, especially now, a dialogue with inner demons, not a submission to them. The depiction of desolation in this particular form has always given me some kind of hope. It tells me: here’s someone who’s been oppressed by all these dark emotions,and yet the use of light is what distinguishes his remarkable work.
We see it in the foreboding of Nighthawks and the ennui of Morning Sun –solitude was his muse.At the moment, I’m taking a long look at Early Sunday Morning, its emptiness echoed in the street outside my window. Hopper has been here, I say to myself across the distance of the decades. And if not with a paintbrush, we too can negotiate these difficult times with a pen, guitar or ladle in hand.
Rehana Munir is the author of Paper Moon (HarperCollins India).
Read other articles in The Art of Solitude series here