First published in The Guardian online, 2 October 2013
“Nighthawks” is one of Edward Hopper’s greatest paintings and that, of course, is saying a lot. In my opinion, Hopper is the greatest exponent of mood in the static medium of painting. In an age of photography, cinema and everything else, any intelligent realist painter will begin to feel an increasingly agonising need to come up with a good reason why they should paint at all. Hopper’s example is the question’s most convincing answer. Crucially, his paintings are not illustrations of a mood, they are engines designed to create a mood in the viewer. How he does this is so interesting and instructive that I’ll save my thoughts for another, longer blogpost.
(I do not merely illustrate frustration, I create it).
Anyway, the cartoon. I really went through the ringer for this one. On paper “Nighthawks” should be great fodder for an artoon – it’s got several people in it, in an environment everyone knows, etc. But once I decided to attack it head-on (no decent idea had come into my head in over 2 years of sideways glances) I filled an embarrassing amount of pages in my notebook to get something. I think it was Einstein who said that genius was the taking of infinite pains. Don’t be silly, I am certainly not saying I am a genius! The dots are there for others to join.
This iconic painting has been the subject of innumerable parodies, the most famous which is “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Gottfried Helnwein. It shows James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. Hopper’s lonely people clashing somehow with A-list celebrities was the most interesting angle I came up with but I went through a gazillion ways of how to best present it. The bouncers ended up being the key. They always are. Love those guys.