Friday, November 29, 2013

Flash: How a Starbucks triptych-like mural upends The Hopper view of the universe

This blog follows an earlier blog on two Edward Hopper works of art hanging in the Yale Gallery of Art. Click here to read the earlier blog first.

Enter a Starbucks today, any Starbucks and you are hit smack in the face by the pleasant aroma of Pike, Sumatra, Christmas blends, etc.

And so often, the lines are ten to 15 people in front of you. In other words, you come square smack into the middle of humanity.

There are often masses of people, so once you pick up your order, there is no seating left.

In other words, the cafe is where people have congregated and continue to do so to share ideas over java.

But little noticed until recently is a sepia toned triptych mural that dominates the once bare walls of some of the coffee bars.

Now, when you look up you see familiar, family, street scenes with the characters connecting to each other and their surroundings. These images that follow are composites  from the Starbucks at the Ridgeway Center, Stamford and the 37th Avenue Starbucks in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Here are some:

In this first image,  the Starbucks, has actual live customers standing in a cue waiting each his turn to place an order. A biker passes in front of the cafe on her way home or to work. People here have a purpose, they are trekking, gliding along the path of life. 

A solitary guitarist, perhaps a troubadour,  stands in front of the store, but he is not truly alone as he serenades the customers as they enter and leave. The air is alive with the sound of music. 

In this second image, we find a flower shop to the left. It is en plein air and the visible and tangible and aromatic bouquets are beckoning customers to walk right in and do some impulse purchasing; indeed, there is commerce going on her.

But, there are theatrics, along with music very possibly being performed here.Why do I say that? Notice that drawn curtain seen through the left side of Starbucks exactly where the biker's head is located.

Where does the curtain lead to?  An area obstructed by the flora in which could be seated musicians and the standing man in the background, who I presume is owner, is doubling as an actor. 

 Besides the biker, there is a guy and his gal friend on the sidewalk surveying the flowers. In the background, there is also another fellow at the extreme left with a newspaper tucked under his arm. Perhaps he is waiting at a bus stop while catching the entertainment.

 There is also a subtle triangulation here at Starbucks that,  unlike the dissonance evoked by figures of the woman, the artist and the denim jacket  in  Hopper's Western Motel, underscores harmony and connectivity. 
 Here's how it works:   if you draw a line from the biker to the couple and stage performer and then another line back to the man in the street with newspaper under his  arm and continue the line from him to the biker you have created a near isosceles triangle of humans--all simpatico, all an intricate resonant part of the fabric of humanity. 

I would call this phenomenon complementary triangulation,  as opposed to the uneasy, disquieting dissonant triangulation discussed  in the earlier  blog on Western Motel. 

To the right of the Starbucks is  a produce market en plein air, enticing impulsive customer viewing--as much or even more so than the stores of its  two neighbors.

  We see a dog standing in front-- which while leashed to its master who has stopped to peruse the 'wares' --gazing, toward the street, transfixed by the approaching biker-a beautiful bidirectional connection of animal to two humans simultaneously.

   The fruits and vegetables are alive with their radiant display of various shades of  reds, yellows, oranges and greens-- thanks to the intensity of the conical beams of light lavishly spread out on the scene.

How does each artist, Hopper in the case of Western Motel (shown below) and the Starbuck artist of this triptych- mural use lighting to effect his/her message?

 Hopper uses his lighting to underscore his view that people are separated, i.e. the woman in   "Sunlight in a Cafeteria" (see previous blog) sits alone swathed in the streaming sunlight of early afternoon and the Motel lady, pictured above, similarly sits bathed alone in the later afternoon western rays.

We have discussed how the Starbucks artist uses flood lights to bring out the rich colors of  the flora and especially the produce which serves to draw people together to shop and frequent the cafe where they share their humanity via music, theater and through the exchange of conversation.

One final amazing detail, which adds a particular poetic license, an acute sensitivity and creativity to the Starbucks installation in Jackson Heights. Do you notice the the two bright lights in the image below?

They are not, I repeat not, part of the painting. They are a part of our sit down cafe. And so the artist and/or the installer has very cleverly magnified the amount of light  by creating an illusion that the lamps are a part of the triptych.

Kudos to the Starbucks artist who has upended  Hopper's awesome and powerful focus on individuals-- depicted very much alone in their universes-- by connecting, people to their places, friends and objects.

But, who is he? (his artwork is not signed and a nearly exhaustive online search is still ongoing).

And, of course kudos to Hopper who-- through attention to details -- has painfully, slowly and laboriously created a universe of fascinating, intriguing and enduring  isolated souls.

It is not fitting to say that Hopper truly stands alone and supreme among 20th Century American artists?


Edward Hopper paintings at the Yale Gallery of Art: His vision is embedded in subtle details

I recently made my first  visit to  the newly remodeled Yale University Gallery of Art on Chapel St. in New Haven.

 I took the elevator up to the third floor American wing and immediately made a bee-line to the Hopper paintings in the museum's possession. The one I focused on first  was "Sunlight in a Cafeteria." (1958)

  Sunlight in a Cafeteria by Edward Hopper
Courtesy of

What struck me first is the solitary plant that sits on the window sill. 

The early afternoon rays of the streaming sunshine illuminates a barren empty scene.

 Indeed, one would be hard pressed to identify it as a cafeteria. Cafeterias, after all are built to serve people and where are the customers at this early hour? 

The cafe is empty of life, but for two solitary souls. Though the businessman is facing the lady, there is no indication of any eye contact, let alone any conversation.

The impression is one of loneliness and isolation.

Western Motel (1957)

The second Hopper that caught my eye is Western Motel.

Western Motel continues  Hopper's presentation of loneliness, the aloofness of his subjects--people isolated on their own private islands of existence and experience. 

The woman poses on the edge of the bed in front of the artists's canvas as is if she being photographed--by her husband or lover?

There are two pieces of luggage -suggesting she has a roommate.

There is a jean jacket loosely thrown across the armrest of the sofa chair at the extreme right side--probably belonging to the artist/photographer.

Indeed, there is a subtle triangulation and consequent tension in which the jacket plays a key role.The lady casts her gaze at the artist and the artist is throwing in the details suggesting his rendezvous with his subject. These details tell a story of their own which entails the artists' careful planning, often through story boarding--i.e. making lots of drawings-- in order to determine what details he wishes to include.

If we stand where Hopper is gaze toward the denim and follow the denim  to the lady and her gaze back to Hopper, we have created a virtual linear triangle.

This indicates a connection that goes beyond one of artist and patron.

This is indeed not a stretch of the imagination. The artist did not have to include the piece in the painting at all. He did not have to place that sofa chair with denim facing his subject.

Let's go a little more into depth here.

The slanting rays of sun, as well as darkening blue skies, coming from the west-- suggested by the title--  suggest a late afternoon time of perhaps 5 or 6 PM. Darkness will descend in about 2 hours.

 It is thus more likely that the couple has just arrived.

The emptiness,  barrenness and linear boredom of the interior is suggested by the similar qualities in the landscape outside the large open window.

The tawny mono-color nondescript landscape in the near distance appears as if the rear of sprawling commodious sofas. These images exude a feeling of  plush sensuality, which we will explore next.

The green 1957 Buick  seems to protrude from her scarlet midriff--perhaps a hint of sexuality, virility.

That Buick belongs to her guy.

 Strangely, he is not present at least visually, for we know he is opposite her, as his jacket is too!

And indeed, scarlet, symbolic of warmth, ardor, sensuality is the color of choice for the armchair and bed as well.

Her man, as I have suggested, could be the painter himself--who captures his lady in the lens of his canvas.

And as we know the lens or canvas is an interposition, a subtle distancing of subject and object (on this subject, tomes have been written..)

Still, though highly charged with sensuality, the scene, frozen in time, is the prelude to a potential connection .


Hopper intrigues and fascinates me as he captures and explores through minute carefully planted details the individuality, the aloofness and aloneness of  his subjects.

If the reader wishes to explore Hopper's story boarding, his creating as many as 54 preliminary drawings as in New York Movie (to see all 54, click here), then get hold of a Whitney Museum publication  Hopper Drawing, organized by Carter Foster, Steven and Ann Ames Curator of Drawing.

New York Movie, 1939 

Kudos to the Yale Gallery of Art and its Hopper paintings.

NEXT:   How a certain triptych-like mural featured at selective Starbucks is upending Hopper's view that man stands alone in the universe?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Richard and Pat Nixon filmed at the Kennedy State Funeral: What is on Nixon's mind?

Pat and Richard Nixon at the JFK funeral
Footage courtesy of NBC News and American History TV, CSPAN 3

He is GLUM lost in deep thoughts with hands clutched fast to his chest. So what occupies his mind?

For starters, he may be feeling how ironic that the man that barely bested him at the last election lies shrouded near him in a state funeral, career over, KAPUT. 

He could be thinking, WOW, if I were the one elected, what happened to JFK could have befallen me and my career--serving as Congressman from Whittier California area, as Senator from California 
and then as a 2 term Vice President under Eisenhower would have been in  vain.

And my darling Pat would be the grieving widow, not Jacqueline! 

My goal has always been to occupy the oval office. 

Can it be then that Nixon, sometimes referred to as Tricky Dick has assumed the serious clutched position of  grimaced pain?? to hope that someday his dream, his avowed goal, would be realized.

Next what do we make of Pat's more relaxed smile. What does she know that perhaps, we, or even her
hubby, does not.

Fill in the unanswered questions for yourself.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Amazing Revealing letter from Krushchev to JFK during the missile crisis

Photo courtesy of the AP

Thanks to Martin Sandler, editor of  "The Letters of JFK" we now know that many letters were exchanged by the two world leaders at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Some  of these letters were 35-40 pages long. 

On a recent C-Span books interview, Sandler related that he had read them all and the most compelling is one that stated: 
 "If we don't solve this and we don't solve this now, the living will envy the dead." 

You would have thought the speaker was JFK. After all, it was our country that was under the  potential attack-- that was orchestrated by the Soviet Premier.  

However, what is amazing is that the writer - counterintuitvely-- was Khrushchev himself --not JFK-- as most would think

January 6, 1958 Cover of Time Magazine
Did  he merit the honor too soon?

After all, it was Khrushchev who ultimately authorized the placement of Soviet Made missiles within 90 miles of our coastline. 

This whole event sends more than than just a frisson of horror across one's being. 

Just how close we came to a nuclear holocaust will never be fathomed.

To access the entire Sandler C-Span Book presentation, click on this link:

Here's a  review of Sandler's book by The Guardian.