Miles Davis, Blue in Green from the LP ‘Kind of Blue’ (1959)
Edward Hopper’s realist painting Nighthawks gives the viewer a look inside 1940s American urban culture from the outside. According to the artist, the diner in Nighthawks is based off a real restaurant in Hopper’s New York Greenwich Village neighborhood at an intersection “where two streets meet.” In stark contrast with the dark streets outside, the harsh florescent light illuminating the inside of the diner just became popular in the early 1940s, when Nighthawks was painted. In fact, diner culture itself did not take off until the late 1920s in the US, allowing night owls and insomniacs like the characters in Hopper’s painting a place to relax and chat, escaping the drudgery of daily life.
In addition to his familiar cast of characters, Edward Hopper sets the stage for a classic film noir scene. Streetlights, nighttime settings, dark street fronts, after hours city diners and eerily empty, deserted streets all fit well with a typical film noir setting. As in a classic film noir, in NighthawksEdward Hopper sets the scene for action that doesn’t seem to have taken place yet. Why does the artist include so much seemingly empty dead space outside of the diner? Hopper’s striking compositional choices cause the viewer to search for a story and meaning in Nighthawks. Will the solitary man sitting alone, looking down at the bar suddenly stand and hold the couple seated across from him at gunpoint? Will a car drive by in the street outside? Just like in a good film noir, Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks pulls the viewer into the mystery, making us keep watching, waiting to see what happens next.