I've been spending a lot of time alone lately. I don't mean for this to sound lonely, or sad, or like I'm looking for sympathy. Because I'm not doing any of those things. My existence is quiet, meditative, reflective and still - mornings spent in bed with a book and tea and afternoons writing at the dining room table of my apartment, spying on my lovely retired neighbors in their backyard listening only to the white noise of the ceiling fan. I fill my evenings with friends or, as is most often the case, more reading and writing. It's a perfectly cozy fall routine.
Occasionally, thankfully, this simplicity is injected with bursts of crazy excitement, whirlwind-y chaos, brilliant surprises, challenging stress and dizzying fun. Right now, my life is balanced in the extremes - black and white - with the only gray being the furball named Stormy currently sprawled out on the living room rug. And I am happy for it all, the good and bad, easy and hard. This is a huge period of growth for me and its one I'm trying to consciously live inside - marking the moments and relishing the experiences as they happen.
All this to say (GOD, I'M DRAMATIC SOMETIMES): I've really been digging Edward Hopper lately. There's something about his mastery of light and shadow, solitude and voeyerism that has been speaking to my soul. I've been making semi-regular pilgrimages to the VMFA (I do it all for the Friday Happy Hour) and find myself lingering in front of House at Dusk, 1935, during every visit.
While most of Hopper's work explores themes of alone-ness, disconnection, isolation, home, safety, individualism and community, House at Dusk is particularly relevant to me, now as its the first time I've ever lived on my own in an apartment building as an adult.
The painting is a moody, lush urban landscape; a snapshot of one of those hot, humid East Coast evenings just before a storm hits. The greenery vibrates in technicolor and even the sky takes on an olive-y tone. Some of our apartment building residents are out for the night, their shades drawn and interiors dark. Others are milling about inside their illuminated rooms but just outside our view. One inhabitant though, this young lady peering out over the windowsill at the world below her, dominates the painting quietly and authoritatively.
Chiaroscuro is my favorite art history term; both for the way it sounds and the technique it stands for. Most often used in reference to Caravaggio's dramatically lit religious paintings, chiaroscuro is defined as "an effect of contrasted light and shadow created by light falling unevenly or from a particular direction on something."
This is exactly Hopper's method for engaging with - and ultimately controlling - his viewer. The girl's window glows with such a radiant energy and the surrounding windows dim with an inky blue blackness, literally curtained off. The contrast of the girl's dark hair with the yellow light creates subtly compelling visual composition that makes it hard to turn your gaze from.
This technical move also serves to simultaneously heighten the emotional impact. Because our eye is immediately drawn to the illuminated window frame, we also form an immediate bond with this girl. The questions begin: who is she? what is she looking at? who else is in the apartment with her? is she melancholy or just curious? You're attached to her - there's an affinity in the mystery of her circumstance.
Like I said earlier, it's a vibe I'm particularly drawn to, this simple complexity, which is not often the case for me. I'm not usually a fan of representational art and my favorite abstract artist is Pollock - a man and his art known for its violent chaos and dynamic movement. No matter the case, it's so nice having such a lovely museum full of such special art so close by. I'm able to account for my mood in the most poetic way just by walking down the street...