Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Yanks 5, A's 1
2004-08-06 08:53
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to

Call it Sleep

What a nice turn of the weather we're enjoying in New York. It had been hot and muggy for well over a week, and it was supposed to rain all day yesterday. But by the time the Yanks and A's took the field in the early afternoon, it was clear and sunny, a virtually perfect August day. Kevin Brown dominated Oakland and the Yankees increased their division lead to nine-and-a-half games over the idle Boston Red Sox. If Brown manages to stay healthy he should be an exceedingly effective pitcher for the Bombers down the stretch.

Derek Jeter and Ruben Sierra had RBI doubles. John Olerud celebrated his 36th birthday going 3-3 (he was also hit by a pitch). Last night, my mind was wandering as I tried to fall asleep. Forget the air conditioner, a chilly breeze from my bedroom window had Em and I under the covers. It struck me that more than anything, Olerud strongly resembles one of the pensive, stoic figures from an Edward Hopper painting.

Hopper was the first painter I ever considered a favorite. My uncle Fred gave me the cataolog of Hopper's 1981 retrospective at the Whitney for my tenth birthday, and his pictures had a major impact on me. More than anything, I respond to Hopper's strong sense of composition, and his sensitivity to space and light. While I enjoy his landscapes--and especially his cityscapes--I cherish his interior pictures most of all. Often, a Hopper painting will feature an expressionless figure inside an apartment looking out of a window or a door.

When I was young, I was fascinated by the lonliness and isolation of these figures. They never smiled. (There is only one picture--a water color of his wife Jo--that I know of which features a person smiling.) What were they thinking? More importantly, what were they looking at? It didn't really matter. All that matterd was that they seemed to be searching for something. They yearned for something. Or maybe they were just sleepy or bored. Curiously, if you ever get a chance to see any of Hopper's work in person, you'll notice that his figures look clumsily rendered, stiff, and awkward. Walk about 15 paces away from the canvas however and they click into perfect focus. (You'll also notice just how much green he uses.)

As a side note, one thing that makes Hopper a brilliant painter is that he implies what his figures are looking at, without showing us. Talk about the mark of a great storyteller. Matisse and Bonnet were famous for their interior/exterior pictures, and Hopper continued this tradition. Typically, the interior space will command the canvas, with the exterior--seen through an open doorway or an open window--only taking up a tiny portion of physical space. However, Hopper will imply the greater exterior space, by adding a window ledge, an apartment building across the way, etc. The effect should effect the viewer subconsciously, but it directly relates to what the central figure(s) are looking at. Because the interior rooms are often bare, the sense of space, of openess is commanding.

When I matured, the people in Hopper's pictures became less important than the formalism of the composition. (For instance, I almost totally ignore the figures on the right side of the canvas of Hopper's famous "Nighthawks", preferring instead to explore the empty store front across the street that fills up the left side.) Often, the people ceased to matter to me at all. One of Hopper's last great paintings, "Sun in an Empty Room" (1963, 29x40) is a picture of an empty, sun-lit room. (Reproductions don't do the picture justice.) On the far right side of the frame is a window. You can see dark green trees through the window which suggest the time of year; inside the room, the sun hits the interior walls in two places. The wall closer to the window features a bright, white light, while the wall further away has a wamer, more mellowed light. Is it early morning or late in the afternoon? It is a picture of amazing simplicity, and for me it suggests a kind of ideal serenity. Hopper, a man of few words, was once asked to describe the picture. "It's about me," he replied.

Personally, I think he felt liberated by not having to include people. But when you do see one of the lonely people in his paintings, not quite knowing what they are thinking or experiencing, imagine of the newest member of the Yankees, John Olerud. I don't think of him as being depressed or even grim, simply private, internal, resolute. I think he would fit in just fine.

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