Nov 16 2010

Nighthawks

Published by at 10:28 pm under Uncategorized

Edward Hopper uses, most obviously, the techniques of lighting and shadowing in Nighthawks to illuminate the figures sitting inside Phillies in Manhattan one evening. As the viewer, we are supposed to understand that the place of light and warmth in the early 20th century was on a barstool, whiling away the evening in the company of your fellow barstool inhabitants, shooting the breeze and talking about them Yankees. However, there is an added element at work in Hopper’s art that, although it may not be spelled out in the same manner that the lighting is, truly informs the reader of the painting’s mood. The combination of the fact that there are only four people in Phillies, that there is no one on the streets, and (most importantly) that the people in the bar are dressed in the finest upper crust attire creates a pervasive sense of desperation and strain in the painting’s periphery. They’re Nighthawks, you see, because they perch on their supposedly cushioned top shelf, pretending to be satisfied and utterly at ease, while they secretly and anxiously watch for even the slightest stirring of those beneath them. The two individuals in the painting facing us are leaning forward expectantly, because although their posh lives are ostensibly pleasant, they are always on the lookout for snippets from those lower on the totem pole that will validate their place at the top.

The artistic elements at play in this work speak of straight lines, order, and sense. However, the emotional elements of Hopper’s painting tell of a time of severe anxiety and desperation, of strain and the need to stay awake at night, dressed in your finest, to listen for signs of real life emanating from the emotionally dead around you, and to mingle with the few who have come out to do the same.

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2 Responses to “Nighthawks”

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