Nighthawks

Posted by Happy Landings - November 21, 2010

The title of Edward Hopper’s, perhaps, most famous painting refers to the figures inhabiting the diner. “Nighthawks” has an entirely different connotation than “night owls,” which could easily have been used to name this painting and these people. The night owl, at least in popular Western culture, is an innocuous image, conotating¬† wisdom and safety. A hawk is dangerous, solitary- a predator. I can’t help but think of Tom Waits’s album when I see this painting. The music has the simultaneous effect of putting the listener in the space where it is performed and, paradoxically, the strong sense of alienation made more palpable by all the jokes, smoke, and bar stories I feel like an eavesdropper experiencing. The way I would enter the painting, visually, is from the bottom right hand corner. This is where the diner, which is closest to the viewer in the foreground, starts. So, from this path, the viewer starts out in the diner which is bright and sterile. the waiter is encountered and he is inviting enough. Immediately following him and his gaze is the elegantly dressed couple. They sit side by side and their positions are ambiguous. They seem weary and in thought but it is possible that they’re relaxing together after a long night. Perhaps an intimacy does exist between them. The last figure we encounter is the man with his back turned to us. If it weren’t for the light reflected on his hat and shoulder, he would be indistinct because his coloring could easily blend in with that of the dark, empty building in the background. His back is turned to us and his placement at the center of the painting seems to me be to be a signal that he is to be understood as a sort of center of consciousness. There is no way for the reader to grasp any of the man’s consciousness. His back is turned and nobody is looking at him. He could easily disappear into the darkness. I assume he is as lonely as the streets, building, and city he threatens to disappear into.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ut2UyJoDh3E

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