About "Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper

A few nights ago I was in a bar waiting for a friend of mine. I had arrived quite early so I decided to take a table and to order myself something to eat and a coffee. I was lost in my thoughts when my eyes were attracted by the people surrounding me and also by the attitude they had in that moment; lots of them seemed to be far away, lonely and quite absent-minded; most of them were playing with their mobiles. After a while my attention was captured by a painting on the wall, it was the printing of a very famous painting which seemed to be put there in correspondence with what I was thinking. It was “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper, an American artist, who completed the painting in 1942.

The picture represents an American restaurant, one of those restaurants with the shop-windows on the street. It is a very simple and geometrical composition and the main characters are just a few people that revitalize the restaurant, illuminated only by neon lights. A man is at bar, giving his back to the observer, while the barman (the only figure with light colours) is serving a couple, close but at the same time distant to each other. The restaurant, maybe an old diner on Greenewich Avenue, illuminates a street which, otherwise, would have been completely desert and dark.

On the artist’s mind the painting should give an idea about the loneliness of the American society during the Second World War and , in general, about the loneliness of man in the contemporary society and about the sense of emptiness that society can transmit, a theme already dealt by artists of the previous epoque(infact in 1942, they were exhibiting “Terrace at night” by Van Gogh, which dealt with similar themes, in New York). Four strangers deep in their business and thoughts, enlightened only by artificial modern lights. The only thing they have in common and that takes them company is a cup of coffee. The only relief from the vicissitudes of life is a warm scented coffee.

Coming back to my contemporaneity , I realise that Hopper’ s representation can be easily adapted to our days: artificial lights, people always in a hurry ignoring themselves and it is easy for me to imagine a parody of the painting where the characters are completely concentrated on the screen of their smartphones or tablets which absorb completely their interest and, also nowdays, the only thing they would have in common is : a warm scented cup of coffee.

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