Edward Hopper: Creator of Nighthawks. An Introduction.

Edward Hopper Nighthawks

‘You don’t know Nighthawks by Edward Hopper?’ they said. 'You should'.

A quick search on the internet showed that I was late to the party. Not only is Nighthawks an iconic painting, but it oozes isolation in the urban environment, even when other people inhabit it too. Nighthawks has been reappropriated wryly again and again, with characters from The Simpsons to Santa to Rick & Morty and even a version by Banksy.

So, who is Edward Hopper and what did he do? Born in 1882, he was an American Realist Painter. As well as the oil paintings you might be familiar with, he was a watercolourist and printmaker. He preferred to be a recluse, a role enabled by his more gregarious wife who features as a model in several of his paintings and adapted her career to his. It was a sometimes violent relationship which may have stifled her own creativity, but they stayed together until his death.

Hopper’s paintings are characterised by the urban environment, light, shadows and empty space. It is this space that weighs heavy, inviting the viewer to sense the chilly loneliness of being aside from the crowd. The spaces are transitory zones, the sort you would find on a mundane journey. However, the sense of alienation conveyed in his work is not his alone. The rapid changes taking place in America at that time meant that others felt this too, and his work struck a chord as American society rapidly evolved to make it increasingly easy to be alone in a crowd. It works on a personal level too. Many of the characters are on the inside looking out. There is often nothing stopping them from stepping out into the wider world, yet they do not. They stay inside, hemmed in by an unseen barrier, like a hidden forcefield.

Hopper’s work is influential. Among the artists informed by this work are Rothko and Magritte, the musician Tom Waits, the writer Joyce Carol Oates and Ridley Scott, who based the atmosphere of Bladerunner on Nighthawks.

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