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novels, art. painting, characters,  Edward Hopper. The Drawing Lesson, the  first in The Trilogy of Remembrance,

Automat, by Edward Hopper.

 

Can a painting inspire a novelist? I certainly think so. Automat by Edward Hopper certainly inspired me.

I have a fascination with his paintings. Somehow— whether by technique, imagination or subject matter—he is able to create the most compelling and evocative scenes which all tell a story. One of my favourites is Automat an oil painted in 1927.

A young woman with a yellow felt hat sits absolutely alone in a barren restaurant drinking a cup of coffee. I look at this and immediately feel her isolation and loneliness as if it were my own. Is she running away? What thoughts are in her mind as she stares into the cup?

Right away, Hopper has got me speculating. Where did she come from? Where is she going? I’m caught right in the middle of a story which you can “read” backwards or forwards in time or stay right in the present.

What emotions does Hopper create and how does he do it? Behind the solitary woman is a large window, blackened by an impenetrably gloomy night. The lights or reflections of lights recede into the background giving a murky, tunnel-like effect, leading to nowhere. The radiator, crouching at the left of the painting, seems just as isolated as the girl in the composition, but almost looks more communicative than her. The lonely, solitary moment is caught forever in time. I think of homesickness and fear of the unknown or unknowable.

Hundreds of stories could grow from this one painting. Will someone, a boyfriend or sister enter that door, hoping to bring her back home? Where is home? If no one comes, where will she go after she drinks her coffee?

To a dingy hotel room? Onto a train to New York? That would be just like many other Hopper paintings, which so often depict hotel lobbies, motels and railway cars—just like waiting rooms for people in transition. Or maybe she will change her mind and go back home.

Hopper painted much of his work in the twenties, thirties and forties of the last century, when rapid industrialization and urbanization were forcing people from their old dwellings and old ways of living. Consequently, so many people felt lost and displaced.

And yet, the emotions evoked by his work are not only timeless, they are universal. Great art transcends time and place and touches a nerve in us all, which communicates those universal emotions and ideas to us. Just like a photograph. Automat is a permanent moment in time existing in a world which is, at the same time, transient. Maybe that’s how I’m struck by the sense of fleeting moments and permanence all in one.

And just what did this painting inspire? I think I had this woman at the back of my mind when I wrote a short story called The Thief. In that story, I named her Celia and that was her debut. When I was writing The Drawing Lesson, the first in The Trilogy of Remembrance she took over a major role once again as Celia.

And what was this Celia like? Definitely she was very strong willed. As a character you don’t jump from a short story to a novel without the ability to impress yourself upon the author. She was a young woman painfully cut off from normal social relations with others–one so isolated and private that she could scarcely find anyone. When she did find someone, she drove them away with her “strangeness”.  Perhaps one very much like the girl in Hopper’s Automat. 

Because I love Hopper’s paintings I’m posting a few more right here.

Edward Hopper,  Hotel Lobby, novels, characters, The Trilogy of Remembrance, The Drawing Lesson, art, painting

Hotel Lobby, Edward Hopper

All of Hopper’s paintings tell a story. But you may not know just where you are in that story. The three people in this Hotel Lobby form a sharp visual triangle. What’s going on? Or what has been going on or will be?Maybe it’s up to us to finish the story.

Night Hawks, Edward Hopper,, The Trilogy of Remembrance, novels, novels about artists, creativity, painting, art, stories

Night Hawks, by Edward Hopper

This is likely the most famous of all of Hopper’s paintings. He captures far more than just the lunch counter, the people and the street. He captures a mood or a “feel” of time and place. And something else. But what? For me, he captures a haunting sense that something important lies just underneath the surface of what we can see.

That’s an idea that really appeals to me. That there is something underneath, behind or beyond what we see in this world. In fact, I was so captivated by it, that it forms the underlying theme of The Trilogy of Remembrance which you can find right here. http://amzn.to/ZdOlRi

 

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