Go here to look at “People in the Sun,” painted by Edward Hopper in 1960, and consider the young man in the lower left corner, the only one of the five not gazing at the sun. Hopper, as usual, paints a mundane mystery. Where are these people? Could it be a sanitarium? Why are they so formally dressed in such an informal setting? The bald man closest to us might be smiling. The woman to his left, who recalls Joan Crawford, appears to grimace. The man to her left, the Rudyard Kipling look-alike, stands at attention while seated. The blonde beyond him is faceless.
The landscape is peculiar, one I’ve never seen – a road, a square-cut field of grass or grain, a low range of blue-gray hills like waves in the ocean. The juxtaposition of flat field and stony hills is as unexpected as men in suits and women in dresses seated in wooden deck-chairs. They might be on the deck of a cruise ship, intently watching the waves. The scene is comic but not satirical.
Only the young man is hunched over and wears a cravat, the color of which matches the blue of the most distant hills and the faceless woman’s dress. For me, he is the sympathetic center of Hopper’s painting. I like the way he ignores the sun and landscape, and reads intently, as I’m always heartened when I see people reading in public places. He holds his book in the shadow to reduce the glare. The others might be mannequins. He is unquestionably alive and reminds me of my younger self, when I once read so long in a field adjoining my university campus that I came to my senses with a serious sunburn.
“I love to lose myself in other men’s minds. When I am not walking, I am reading; I cannot sit and think. Books think for me.”