Sunday, 8 December 2013

Edward Hopper, Summer Interior (1909)

It is all about displaying the interior. I sometimes wonder if a writer were building a house in his head when he is gestating stories. If house-building sounds too stupendous and quixotic a task, at least the writer would be envisioning a room of his imaginary house, and adding furniture or adornments here and there as he plods away his writing. Day and night, the room expands and shrinks. Day and night the writer is flushed with excitement as he bustles about the room, but before long such childlike enthusiasm will flag, and here comes the writer storming out in distress. Time and motion do not desert the room. It is steadily yet soundlessly growing in size, like flowers that suddenly blossom on an arid land.

Words are redundant when a story is already narrated by pictures. Pictures are inconsequential when everything is already visualised by words. Edward Hopper did nothing to solve the ongoing dilemma, but further complicated it. Whenever one feels compelled to apply words to one of Hopper’s paintings, he unwittingly puts the painting under the risk of morphing into something it is not- some melodrama, some mystery, some sleazy, hardboiled noir. On the other hand, should such painting be chosen to serve as the pictorial accompaniment to any story, be it subtly written or frustratingly opaque, these two will rarely advance in convoy, with the painting being the most conspicuous laggard. Possessing within itself still many enigmas waiting to be unraveled, the painting’s role to illustrate or complement a story ultimately founders.

Hopper depicted a world that is bound to be chastened by the pictorial reality. Time does not stand motionless in Hopper’s paintings, nor are the subjects and objects thus endowed with an aura of immortality. Once the painter introduces a character into his painting, willingly or not he will witness his beloved Creation grows, rebels and transgresses, until one day when this fearless child sets up a commotion in her environs, the meaning and appearance of the painting are altered forever. The painter will then find himself merely a photographer, taking snapshots of the lives of his child on the periphery.

That is what happens every time a stranger wanders into your territory unbidden. Reality should be like that and every one’s life is more or less punctuated with people one never knows. But it is to the painter always a vexation when his Creation develops into someone he never knows, namely someone that speaks and acts contrary to the painter’s expectations because somehow she gradually acquires her own independence and soul. And what’s next? Maybe the house will have its soul, too, and so will every flotsam and jetsam that scatter about the room. Because the character has magic tinkling about her fingers, and everything she touches turns into something like her, so every wooden heart suddenly starts pumping blood.

The biggest difference between a photographer and a painter lies here. A photographer longs to be “shocked,” having no compunction of dishing out images that succeed more in traumatising than revealing. Such things a painter abhors and shuns. Every unpleasant or astonishing matter should be well hidden away, insofar as the painter forgets that painting is like walking on a bridge, that every bridge has its underside that is invisible to its pedestrian.

Art convinces us that our world has its reversal that most of the times we wilfully ignore. Even when, as the horrific tale goes, the irate painter tries to efface the painting with his paint-knife, tries to stop the noise of myriads heartbeats that whirl about his ears day and night, there is another facet of the painting he fails to notice and thus fails to annihilate. And that remaining side of the painting lives on, even in the least perceptible way.

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