Windows are underrated both in art and in life. Look around you right now. Granted they may not present you with the most idyllic vista, but they do allow for a degree of escapism. Windows allow our minds to drift into romantic reveries or deep contemplation. We look through windows to see alternative realities from those we are already surrounded by. In any life, being at the window is a common archetype where people spend time; the old person looking out, the prisoner in his cell, the astronaut in space, the traveller on a journey, the underwater explorer. These all support an idea of the window as a physical barrier that nonetheless connect us with the outside world.
“Trapped in our houses, like the figures in Hopper’s paintings, we stare out in a state of longing, waiting to embrace friends and family.”
Let me introduce or perhaps reintroduce you to the American Realist painter Edward Hopper. Not named a realist for nothing, Hopper’s works are poignant and engaging. The widespread use of windows in his artworks has often gone unnoticed, yet they stand, for me, to be a prominent tool of connection for his figures. Painting isolated figures overlooking eerily empty cityscapes, Hopper uses the window as a threshold between an inside reality and an outside illusoriness. In a time of physical isolation, the Covid-19 pandemic has made the need for a connection more important than ever. Trapped in our houses, like the figures in Hopper’s paintings, we stare out in a state of longing, waiting to embrace friends and family. His paintings capture a crisis of loneliness for his figures; a fervent social consequence of this pandemic for some individuals.
One of his paintings, Night Windows, 1928, yields an alternative viewpoint for us to look at. Perhaps a sight for voyeuristic pleasure, a woman is being watched (by us) in a state of undress through her window. One might dismiss the accusation of Hopper’s prurient behaviour and instead sympathise with the social anxieties of the C20th woman as she tries to disrobe in private. Scenarios such as this are more likely to happen during our current state of lockdown. The unseen sadistic eyes that peer through windows at night; are they searching for something more profound or are they just grasping onto that one moment of daily connection? Office in a Small City, 1953 additionally captures the ‘WFH’ status that many will identify with. Staring through his window towards a static skyline, will any work be completed by this figure?
It is as if Hopper had foreseen the disconnected realities of what was to come today. We can now almost situate ourselves in the positions of these figures as we stare out or gaze into the windows of neighbouring buildings, waiting to be reconnected to the outside world. Fortunately, through the virtual windows of our phones and laptops, social media enables us to connect in ways that were not possible for Hopper’s subjects.
By Jemima Erith