The painting portrays a lone woman staring into a cup of coffee in an Automat at night. The reflection of identical rows of light fixtures stretches out through the night-blackened window.
Hopper's wife, Jo, served as the model for the woman. However, Hopper altered her face to make her younger (Jo was 44 in 1927). He also altered her figure; Jo was a curvy, full-figured woman, while one critic has described the woman in the painting as "'boyish' (that is, flat-chested)".
As is often the case in Hopper's paintings, both the woman's circumstances and her mood are ambiguous. She is well-dressed and is wearing makeup, which could indicate either that she is on her way to or from work at a job where personal appearance is important, or that she is on her way to or from a social occasion.
She has removed only one glove, which may indicate either that she is distracted, that she is in a hurry and can stop only for a moment, or simply that she has just come in from outside, and has not yet warmed up. But the latter possibility seems unlikely, for there is a small empty plate on the table, in front of her cup and saucer, suggesting that she may have eaten a snack and been sitting at this spot for some time.
Hopper would make the crossed legs of a female subject the brightest spot on an otherwise dark canvas in a number of later paintings, including Compartment C, Car (1938) and Hotel Lobby (1943). The female subject of his 1931 painting Barber Shop is also in a pose similar to the woman in Automat, and the viewer's image of her is similarly bisected by a table. But the placing of the subject in a bright, populated place, at midday, makes the woman less isolated and vulnerable, and hence the viewer's gaze seems less intrusive.
Essay on How Artists/Writers Treat Perception: Using Edward Hopper's Painting 'Compartment C, Car 293',' Rooms by the Sea', and 'Automat' as Examples and Using Frank O'Hara's 'A Sleep Away From Them' and 'The Day Lady Died' as Examples
This essay will discuss how artists/writers treat perception. The essay will examine in detail a combination of paintings and poems from two artists/writers; they are Edward Hopper and Frank O’Hara. Hopper’s paintings that are to be explored are ‘Compartment C, Car 293’, ‘Rooms By The Sea’ and ‘Automat 1927’. The poems scrutinized from O’Hara are ‘A Sleep Away From Them’ and ‘The Day Lady Died’. Perception is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted” (www.oxforddictionaries.com ). Perception will be discussed from the viewpoint of the reader and observer of the poems and paintings. Each artist/writer will be considered individually with a small comparison and contrast paragraph at the end.
The first artist/writer that will be explored is Edward Hopper. To note first is that “Edward Hopper belongs to a particular category of artist whose work appears sad but does not make us sad” (http://www.tate.org.uk). Hopper’s viewer interprets this painting the way they see it. Hopper’s paintings are known to be sad. Hopper paints a gloomy image in which the viewer potentially sees themselves. The image guides the viewer to understand their regrets in life and not to be upset by them because they are not the only person who has problems; everyone has problems. Hopper catches this sadness in his painting called ‘Automat 1927’.
The woman sits alone drinking a cup of coffee. She still has her coat and hat on and is fixated on her coffee cup. She does not look comfortable; it looks like she left in a rush. The hat and coat do not match, she is wearing what looks like best clothes; the coat has fur round the neck but the hat is yellow and not as posh as the coat. A woman of her standard would not leave the house not matching her clothes. Hopper has painted this woman from this position so that the viewer can create their own perception of the lonely woman. The viewer decides why the woman is alone, whether she has had an argument with someone or if she has lost someone close to her. Hopper has painted this woman indicating a vast amount of empty space, the woman is sitting alone the empty chair in front of her is important, it is almost as if she is waiting for someone to join her but they have not come. The woman would not look as lonely if the chair was not there. The Automat which is “a cafeteria in which food and drink were obtained from slot machines” (www.oxforddictionaries.com) also looks empty due to there being no reflection in the window. The lights in window are for the viewer to realise what they are. Are they there or not? They are inside but the way Hopper has painted them makes them look like the lead outside leading to happiness but the woman has her back to them. Hopper is playing tricks with the viewer; he is asking the viewer to think about different ways to look at things. Hopper has used the emptiness to enhance the tension of the painting. The perception of this painting is up to the viewer, the obvious reading of this painting is a woman sitting alone drinking a coffee. Hopper has treated perception in a dark and gloomy approach; the woman has not been painted in bright colours to represent her loneliness. Hopper wants the reader to use their own imagination to create a reading of the painting. Hopper has painted what he saw but there is a deeper perception of this painting that Hopper wants the viewer to grasp. The viewer sympathises with the woman and asks themselves questions wondering why she is on her own. The woman is alone with her thoughts and Hopper and the viewer is intruding on this alone time. Overall Hopper treats perception in this photo through loneliness, a key theme in Hoppers paintings. ‘Automat 1927’ is a good example of this; “as alone as the woman seems within the oasis of the automat, the deep darkness outside the window seems even lonelier” (Noun, Roy, Schulze, Worthen, 1998, P142). Hopper focuses on the woman and there being no one around her emphasises the loneliness of the woman. If there were lots of people and conversation she would not seem as lonely. This is so the viewer can feel good within themselves that they are not as lonely as the women. Hopper paints what is in front of him however the perception may be completely different. For example, the woman has something on her mind and the perception of the painting is sad due to the subtle parts of the painting such as the lack of reflection in the window. Renner supports this point, “Hopper too has his eye on the psychological factors rather than on the merely visible: representational realism is used a system of encoded signs that communicate the subconscious basis of conscious perception” (Renner, 2000, P9). Hopper is concerned with the perception of the painting rather than how beautiful the painting is. The reading is actually pleasing for the viewer because they identify with the woman and think of themselves and when they need to be alone with their thoughts and they are glad that they are not alone.
The next painting to be analysed is ‘Compartment C, Car 293’.
This is another Hopper painting that demonstrates loneliness. This painting captures a woman travelling on a train by herself. The dark colours used again represent the lonely small compartment that the woman sits in. The only companionship she has is the book she is reading. The book signifies the woman’s loneliness; she would rather read and keep to herself than look out the window.
“The view through the window suggests both a divorce from the natural world and a metamorphic process affecting the immediacy of perception. The fact that the woman is reading is symbolic of isolation; she is closed off within herself, her attention on a system of signs different from that of direct representation...The woman’s absorption is relaxed, though she is concentrating too” (Renner, 2000, P45).
The underlying subject of this painting is separation and loneliness; the woman is separated from the world. There are two perceptions of loneliness in this painting: the woman is lonely within the compartment and the woman does not have a travelling companion. The loneliness isn’t as obvious here as in the last painting and she is becoming absorbed in another world- the one in her book. It may be a more exciting world to the one she perceives out the window. The woman is so deeply involved with her book; this is shown by the choice of seat that the woman has chosen. She is not experiencing the world that she is travelling through first hand but most likely reading about it in her book. Hopper states himself “you know when you go by a train, everything looks beautiful. But if you stop, it becomes drab” (Levin, 1998, P299). The woman is comfortable and wants to enjoy her book. This painting is divided into two parts; the viewer can see the beautiful scenery through the window and the woman who appears to want to be alone. “Through the train window we see a landscape the features of which (a river, bridge and dark woods) restate the familiar dichotomy. And the picture also has its own distinctive energy, owing to the slant angle at which we view the scene” (Renner, 2000, P45). The angle the painting has been composed from makes the compartment seem bigger than it actually is. Hopper has treated the perception of this painting by allowing the woman to appear comfortable in what would be quite a small space. Hopper has also attempted to make the meaning of this painting complex; Hopper has included an internal and external view. The internal view is of the woman reading and the external view from the window which could also be seen as another painting itself due to the window frame. If the viewer is not told the title of this painting it may take a few attempts to work out this woman is on a train. Hopper “described his art as a “transcription [of his] most intimate impressions of nature”, he was not only drawing attention to the personal element in his work. He strikingly described the decisive transfer from conception to canvas, as one of “decay” (Renner, 2000, P65). Hopper believes that all his paintings are his best work and he treats perception with care in every painting. Hopper paints an image that he sees as a good idea and which he thinks will make the painting beautiful, however there is always a principal meaning. Hopper paints what is there in front of him, and with his perception in mind but the final perception is up the viewer of the painter. The viewer asks themselves a lot of questions to find the perception that Hopper wanted to be brought to light.
The next Hopper painting to be analysed is ‘Rooms By The Sea’.
In this painting Hopper proposes a surreal painting. A definition for surrealism is “a 20th -century avant-garde movement in art and literature which sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images” (www.oxforddictionaries.com). This painting is surreal because the open door leads straight to the sea, which is not normal. This is an example of Hopper’s unconscious mind because there is nothing between the room and the sea which is not achievable in the real world “Hopper regularly included as pictures within his pictures, a characteristic Hopper composition is not first and foremost an image of visible fact but rather a gestalt created out of breakdown and fracture in the process or perception and indeed the capacity to perceive” (Renner, 2000, P85). Hopper’s feature in this painting is the room in the middle of the ocean, which gives a new light to perception. This painting is not a painting that is easy to figure out, Hopper could be being creative and testing the viewer’s imagination to see if they make more of the painting that is actually there.
“In this painting, it is the very detail in Hopper’s method that creates the unreal warps in perception. The distinction between a picture and reality, which is normally the basis of any act of viewing a painting, is questioned within the painting: the sea, painted in such a way as to seem real, looks like a picture, and the room, realistically painted, looks like a product of the imagination” (Renner, 2000, P60).
Hopper treats perception in an unrealistic method. The painting is not an image Hopper has seen but an image he has created in his mind and the reading of this painting is up to the viewer. This is a painting that you can get lost in. “The boundary of light and shadow is echoed in the boundary of the door and the water. This effect gives the work a somewhat unreal dimension...The sea appears to be a painting within a painting, with the door frame as a picture frame” (Renner, 2000, P60). The obvious perception of this painting is that it is unreal. Not all paintings have to be real, painting’s can be just to look at and get lost in. Hopper wants the viewer to question what the real painting is and what their perception is.
The next Artist/Writer to be analysed is Frank O’Hara. “Of all poets it can be said of Frank O’Hara that there is something, in his poetry, he gets to know. What he gets to know is his relation to his world, New York. And the way he gets to know it – in the fullest possible sense of the term – is by stepping out” (Hampson and Montgomery, 2010, P72). O’Hara focuses on New York in his poetry and his perception of the city is exquisite. O’Hara treats perception with caution; the poetry allows the reader to observe New York for themselves by imagining themselves in the poem. The first poem discussed is ‘A Step Away From Them’ which is about a woman going for a walk around New York on her lunch hour. The poem is full of vivid description and the listener has the opportunity to perceive New York first hand whilst reading this poem. The main perception of this poem is time. “The poem was composed the day after Jackson Pollock’s funeral. Time is very much on O’Hara’s mind. He hasn’t much of it” (Hampson and Montgomery, 2010, P82). O’Hara has approached the subject of time with sensitivity; he discusses a walk around New York within a lunch hour which represents the time people have on the earth. In this poem O’Hara wanted the meaning to come across in a subtle way, he wanted to make “the act or perception more difficult and to prolong its duration Perloff, 1998, P19). O’Hara wanted this poem to last longer in the listener’s mind because he as the writer wanted more time himself. The importance of this poem is time; time is on everyone’s minds at one point or another and this poem is a pleasant way of demonstrating how fast time gets away from us all. The poem mentions death of his friends which is what this poem is about, ‘A Step Away From Them’ represents time passing and every one being close to death but the perception that is understood is someone walking through New York seeing the everyday sights and sounds.
Another O’Hara poem is ‘The day Lady Died’. This poem is about the day that O’Hara found out Billie Holiday had died which he saw in a newspaper. The poem “is an original ‘act’ in creating a poem” (Diggory, 2009, P130). This poem was written in one go during a lunch hour. “O’Hara’s poem belongs to the traditional genre of the elegy, finding its occasion in the death of the jazz singer, Billie Holiday...whose nickname, “Lady Day”, is playfully echoed in O’Hara’s title” (Diggory, 2009, P129). O’Hara was a big fan of jazz and especially Holiday which is why he composed an elegy for her. The poem is “an impure poem by which means that O’Hara refuses to step away...from immediate but fragmentary and unpoetic experiences in order to enter the pure realm of the organic and well made work” (Diggory, 2009, P130). O’Hara does not want to step away from his poetry, he feels that poetry should be spontaneous and he is always in the composing poetry frame of mind. The perception of this poem is simple; the speaker runs through their day like a list of things but then comes to halt when the speaker is shocked by the upsetting news of the death of Holiday. O’Hara has not made the meaning of the perception of this poem complex due to the death of such a brilliant woman; O’Hara wanted this day to be special. In this poem and the poem discussed before, O’Hara wants the reader to experience time to its fullest and live life happily before it is too late.
“To conclude this essay, a comparison will be made between the two artists/writers. Hopper’s art demonstrates many forms of perception, Hopper had his own meaning in mind when painting his art work, and however he did not want the perception to be obvious to his viewer. An example of this is in ‘Automat 1927’ with the reflection of the lights, it is up to the viewer to figure out where these actually are. Hopper treats perception by playing with the viewer’s mind, where as O’Hara treats perception bluntly. O’Hara uses his poetry to distract the listener from the real world and for the listener to create their own perceptions of what is really happening. However, O’Hara will always bring the listener back to the main perception of the poem. “Human perception takes place in a rich and evolving field, and over time a viewer takes in an artwork in many different ways-sensually, emotively, kinaesthetically, and semiotically” (Hampson and Montgomery, 2010, P219). Hopper and O’Hara have their own meanings in mind and which are intended but every listener and viewer will also come up with their own perceptions of the art work and poetry. Art work and poetry will be analysed for years to come and several more perceptions are to follow.
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