Automat



Some wounds never heal
They just bleed a little slower
It's never over

And if you make it home
Death white skin and bone
Can you face the thought
Of another night alone ?

Oh me, oh my
Flying saucers stopping by
It all comes flooding back
When I sit at the automat

How, how can you know
What the void holds for you ?
And will you make it through
All alone ?

Oh me, oh my
Flying saucers stopping by
It all comes flooding back
When I sit at the automat

No answers in your cup
No solace in your chains
Oh believe me
Here they come again

Oh me, oh my
Flying saucers stopping by
It all comes flooding back
When I sit at the automat

Automat
Automat
Automat


Lyrics by:
Squire

Available on:
Marshall's House (3.08)

Details:

Automat (1927) by Edward Hopper. The American Dream has a counterpart - the American Fear. This takes on various forms: the horror or disaster movie, the moral panic, and belief in alien abduction. Edward Hopper's art is of a different form; it's really discomfiting stuff - at least, for persons of a certain disposition. Furthermore, its very setting within normality - its seeming peacefulness - is what gives it such a sharp edge. Throughout his career, Hopper was fascinated by dramatic lighting and nowhere is this more evident than in his nighttime pictures, where brightly lit interiors contrast with the darkness outside. Glowing fluorescent or electrical lights, which illuminate windows and spill onto an otherwise darkened street, set the tone for many of Hopper's paintings and imbue the works with an air of mystery. The voyeuristic possibilities inherent in the modern city (see 'Night Windows', below), where people lived in close proximity - but often with anonymity - are especially apparent at night. Hopper frequently depicted stolen glances from fast-moving elevated trains and glimpses from windows into neighbouring buildings, where figures are busy with their own private concerns, unaware or unconcerned that they are being watched. In roadside diners and late-night cafeterias, hotel lobbies and station cafés, the lack of domesticity may be a relief from what can be the false comforts of home. It may be easier to give way to sadness here than in a living room with wallpaper and framed photographs, the décor of a refuge that has let us down. The figures in Hopper's art are not opponents of home per se; it is simply that, in a variety of undefined ways, home appears to have betrayed them, forcing them out into the night or on to the road. The 24-hour diner, the station waiting room or motel are sanctuaries for those who have, for noble reasons, failed to find a place of their own in the ordinary world. In Automat, Hopper uses clear visual language to confront one of the most persistent themes found throughout modern art movements: solipsistic isolation.

Although Hopper regularly visited New England, Greenwich Village (where he lived in the same apartment from 1913 until his death in 1967) was home, and New York set the stage for many of his most iconic paintings. Just as, in New England he shunned dominant artistic motifs, Hopper disregarded many Jazz Age subjects - soaring skyscrapers, bustling streets, and industrial machinery - favoured by American modernists. Indeed, Hopper's New York is at once instantly recognizable and strangely unfamiliar: streets are devoid of pedestrians, stores are without customers, and even automats - modern restaurants in which coin-operated, food-dispensing machines replaced waiters - lack signs of anything automatic. And though New York architecture rose to great new heights, Hopper favoured instead a horizontal compositional format more closely linked to landscape traditions. He also avoided signs of the grit, noise, and commotion of urban life, imbuing his portrayals of the city with an overwhelming silence and disquieting stillness. Hopper's Automat portrays a lone woman staring into a cup of coffee in an automat late at night, and is often cited by art critics as an example of urban alienation. In 1995, Time magazine used Automat as the cover image for a story about stress and depression in the 20th century. The woman's hat is pulled low over her forehead. Dressed in the armour of fashion, she wears her good clothes: a winter coat with fur at the collar and cuffs, and a spring cloche with a brave bunch of cherries at the brim. The organization of space subtly suggests the precariousness of her social position; seated at the table nearest the door, she is at a carefully calibrated remove from the social flow. The décor is functional, with a stone-topped table and hard-wearing black wooden chairs. The woman's eyes are downcast and her thoughts turned inward, like many of Hopper's melancholic subjects. The unoccupied chair opposite her, drawn in close to the table, seems to emphasize her solitude as she sits there alone with her thoughts. The reflection of identical rows of light fixtures, which Squire likens to flying saucers (doubling as a play on words on the dishware), stretch out through the night-blackened window. They recede into an indefinite distance, while illuminating nothing of the world outside, giving a murky, tunnel-like effect, leading to nowhere. It does not reflect anything from the interior, not even the woman herself. If what the window reflects is what the painting reflects, nothingness exists in the woman's isolation. The pose and mood of the piece is reminiscent of Edgar Degas' L'Absinthe, although unlike the subject in Degas' painting, the woman is introspective, rather than dissipated. In an innovative twist, Hopper made the woman's legs the brightest feature in the painting, thereby turning her into an object of desire and making the viewer a voyeur.

Top: L'Absinthe (1876) by Edgar Degas.
Bottom: Night Windows (1928) by Edward Hopper.


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