While Pearl Harbor was being attacked and NYC was hiding in darkness, Nighthawks was the last light on in the city. Hopper’s characters, alone and distant in the bright colors of their non-life, are juxtaposed to the darkness of what was yet to come. They were entranced on a Kafkaesque threshold, made of glassless windows and impenetrable open doors.


When we look more closely, between the space and the desire to touch these non-adherences, we find out what Hopper is really painting.

In his work we can always find a window, a door, or a glimpse of a building’s façade. These openings are gateways to a transcendent evolutionary path.

Hopper’s characters are powerless human figures, surrounded by artificial geometric shapes they do not want to be in. Frustrated, with their heads bowed, close to one other yet distant, or alone, with their gaze turned towards the light. They are always motionless; they do not know what to do.

I do not paint what I see, but what I feel”, said Edward Hopper. On the canvas, he depicted the emotions which those uneasy characters evoked in him.

Hopper captured the feelings of waiting, absence, loneliness, and despair coupled with a silence filled with wonder. However, perhaps more than anything else, Hopper’s paintings show a threshold and the possibility to cross it. Hopper paints this threshold as the gap between the inside and outside; he paints Janus’ space, where the now combines the duality between the yearning to go and the compulsion to stay. It is the story of that suspension that is being represented.

Therefore, the characters give up on motion and rely on their gaze. They do not cross the threshold with their bodies, only with their eyes. It is only their gaze that can cross the threshold and chase that blind spot, devoid of visible shapes, shown by the light.

In the urban solitude, concrete covers the skin of the Mother Land, it desertifies consciousness. The obscuring buildings block its vibrations, disconnecting the individual from the intent of their true selves and throwing them into a state of immobility of conscious despair.

That something that does not happen, but that perhaps will happen sooner or later or that might never happen, is a renunciation of living, in a social order in which people lose their spirituality.

The colors used by Hopper are odorous. No other colors would be able to communicate so effectively the atomization of human beings within the industrial ‘in – habitat’, in which, as Zola said, the ugly becomes the beautiful.


Hopper skillfully uses colors which are steeped in morning scents, like the aroma of coffee kept in an ebony box. They have a soporific effect that unifies the mood of the viewer and the portrayed subjects.

The observer and the observed both convey the same emotions, that is the pain of a broken promise. They feel the same discomfort and have the same reaction. The observer looks at the painting standing still in front of the picture. The observed is also still but he looks at the world outside from within the picture. An inverse principle of mutual involvement.

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In 1951, in the painting Rooms by the Sea a turning point occurred. A wide-open door welcomes a radiant sun, messenger of the call to come. The room is empty, echoing the adjacent room, the rear one, still furnished with an uncertain past life. The choice is made. The shadow and the light intersect. Now they touch each other. Here it seems as if the water reaches right up to the doorstep, marking the passing line towards the traces of absolute invisibility.


Four years before his death, in the painting Sun in an Empty Room (1963), Hopper introduced a mystical alphabet, devoid of human figures, made of sun, light and empty spaces. The sun fills the empty rooms shining through the perfectly square window. A mature Hopper, who is approaching the end of his life, made it such that light hits objects directly, to amplify the feeling of something happening motionlessly, in the interiority. Hopper opens up to the space of the soul. When asked by his friend Brian O’ Doherty what was behind that painting, Hopper replied, “I’m looking for myself.”

Edward Hopper, Sun in an Empty Room (1963)