Between the smogged, third-world freeways of El Paso, Texas and the strip malls of Carlsbad, New Mexico there is nothing. I cross the vast, open mesas of the Llano Estacado of west Texas on a straight, two-lane road. For hundreds of miles, there is no water, food, gas or living creature of any kind, apart from the occasional rocketing semi-trailer or pick-up truck driven by a cowboy-hatted Texan.
Crossing the Llano Estacado
I munch on a packet of trail mix which I luckily bought in Tucson and sip warm water from a plastic bottle. The absence of life creates a searing numbness. Every café, motel or RV hook-up is boarded up and closed. Every house or trailer is for sale or abandoned. There are no birds, no cattle and no road kill.
The welcome sensation of freedom, of being alone on an empty road.
Driving across the Llano Estacado, I feel, for the first time on this trip, at home. Is this a trick of fading jet lag, of getting used to the sun shining from the south instead of the north? After all, there are few places more different in landscape and culture from the suburbs of Washington than the plains of west Texas. Perhaps it’s just the welcome sensation of freedom, of being alone on an empty road with the promise of adventures ahead.
Edward Hopper called two places home for most of his life. His winter home was a top floor apartment in Washington Square, Greenwich Village, in an unpretentious building famous for its artistic tenants. He made his summer home in Cape Cod, in a rustic, self-designed cottage in the small town of South Truro. Both homes were spartan in the extreme but they provided him with the vistas and settings for most of his pictures.
Hopper’s boyhood home and place of birth was Nyack, New York, a small town upstream of New York City on the Hudson River. He also lived in Paris for a total of eighteen months in his twenties. Shunning the expatriate artistic scene (‘I met hardly any painters,’ he once said, and no ‘Americans that were of much importance’) he nonetheless enjoyed Paris and its lifestyle and studied French with enthusiasm.
Nyack and Paris inspired much of Hopper’s early work. The former was conjured up in ghostly nostalgic paintings of the stairways (Stairway, 1949) and bedrooms in which he spent his childhood. His Parisian pictures, in contrast, are airy and Impressionist. Both were an attempt to find a definitive style which took almost twenty years to come to fruition.
How do you define home? Is it where you were born, grew up or where you live now?