just a couple of nighthawks

It’s one of Mike and Kathy’s favorite paintings: “Nighthawks,” by the American artist Edward Hopper. It depicts four people randomly gathered at an all-night diner in the middle of a city. According to the artist’s notes, Hopper originally named the painting “Night Hawks”, after a common slang word describing the late-night crowd in New York City. The man in the hat holding the cigarette was supposed to have a “beak” for a nose; it’s actually Hopper himself. (The woman sitting next to him was modeled by his wife Jo.)

The diner itself existed only in Hopper’s imagination; he used as his inspiration “a restaurant in Greenwich Village where two streets meet”, and then expanded and simplified the scene.

Hopper sold the painting to the Art Institute of Chicago shortly after painting it, and it has been there ever since (Mike and Kathy have seen it in person). In their notes on the painting, the Art Institute says that “the image—with its carefully constructed composition and lack of narrative—has a timeless, universal quality that transcends its particular locale.”

Besides this refreshing lack of narrative, what else do Mike and Kathy see in this painting? They see themselves, perhaps in a younger time, when they were living in big cities, staying up late and eating at all-night diners. Perhaps in that younger time they might have met at one of these diners, two strangers randomly seated next to each other at the counter, waiting for the young man behind the counter to take their orders.

Just a couple of nighthawks, deep into a lonely night, sitting and waiting for that early breakfast or that late dinner, the coffee mixing with the beer on your breath, and no words are really needed, not on this lonely night.