"Nighthawks" is an oil painting by Edward Hopper that he painted in 1942. It is his most famous work. It shows 4 people very much alone in a downtown diner late at night.
I didn’t use the picture here because it isn’t clear if this picture is available in the “public domain” yet? On the other hand, you could easily go on google and put in the name of the painting and the artist and see it.
The diner is a stand-alone building. It has rounded corners and sits between tall buildings. It is late at night and the streets and other buildings look empty, even more than just closed. Silence seems to be part of the painting and is reflected inside and out. The long front window has a rounded corner on the glass itself that gives the glass a thicker and more confining look. The dinner has no visible doors, and suggests that those inside are trapped, as does the thick glass. The yellow walls are unsettling, faded and peeling. The use of green outside on the reflected walk and around the window suggest an unnatural light. The green sort of fades to a very dark green near the big buildings. It seems to confirm that the people are isolated. The people inside the diner are not talking or looking at each other. Maybe you can see the picture in your mind by now.
It isn’t surprising that Olivia Laing in a new book just out, "The Lonely City", would refer to this painting and describe its detail, because it is the visual definition of being lonely in the city. Alone but with people.
Most of Hoppers paintings are about how loneliness feels. Artists and poets take feelings and reflect them back to us as words and images. They inform us, through them, of our similar feelings.
Loneliness is a feeling close to depression and anxiety. Maybe they share the same spectrum. Loneliness can drive you to either extreme. Being alone is not loneliness. Having no connection with others is loneliness. This blog explores ways to find connections.
Hopper said of his paintings that he declared himself in his paintings. He must have understood well what loneliness was. He talked about how he felt awkward being as tall as he was. Nighthawks diner has 2 men at the counter. They are sitting and bent over but they seem tall. They are dressed in suits with business hats on. They don’t look happy. They each seem alone.
When I looked at the use of the green color by the windows I remembered my own experiences feeling alone in the core of some big cities. Not down on the street in a diner but up 30 floors. You looked out the window and you could see that all the other tall buildings had lights. You could see some people in some windows but no one was close. Going out at night late isn’t wise. Getting up in the morning early and running can still be dangerous.
Once I got up in downtown Chicago about 5 AM and went out to run. I found that the homeless had spread out across the sidewalks and you either jumped over them or went in the street. I guess the good news for me was that they were mostly asleep. Another time in LA I went outside of the hotel to wait for a cab to the airport. It was about 4:30 AM. Several young men from the street came up and asked for money. I felt so happy that a cab pulled up just then. It can be scary.
Sometimes you see street art. The walls of buildings are painted. It may be that this is the new modern art. It can be so interesting. The same photographers that capture the street art include the street people. Art and photography can inform us and tell us of what is being felt but have homeless people lost their humanness when they become art?
Colette Brooks wrote the book, “In the City: Random Acts of Awareness”, She said in the book, “that a city person is one who doesn't feel the need to finish a jigsaw puzzle, who relishes jagged edges and orphaned curves, stray bits of data, stories parsed from sentences half overheard on the streets”
The painting “Nighthawk” suggests a lot of rough edges in people’s lives. It takes more than just people around you to connect. You need to share a little about yourself to connect. You can share what you care about, or think about, or what color the sky, is but sharing will open connections.
Is this homeless man part of the painting? Is he real? Was he just a way for the photographer to tell us what he saw. Did we take his "humanness" away from him by making him part of the picture? Do we see the homeless?