Long ago, I used to have a print of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks taped to the wall of my bedroom at my parents’ house. This was during college. My college dorm room at NIU had been covered in posters of Guns ‘n Roses, Aerosmith, Slayer, Pink Floyd, and one of Gloria Estefan. Then there were the Neighborhood Watch signs I’d stolen from various suburbs with the help of friends. And the “No Dogs Allowed” sign stolen from a park that I placed above my bed (I was 19).
When I left NIU for home, I did not put up the same wall hangings.
I’d seen the iconic painting Nighthawks during a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago one summer and bought a print before leaving. It hung on my wall during the time I got sober and went to Elmhurst College. When I moved out of my parents’ house for good, the print and all the other things on my walls did not come with me.
I got to thinking about all of this when I came across this piece in the New York Times. It’s by Jeremiah Moss who writes the blog Vanishing New York. Hopper had always claimed that Nighthawks was inspired by a restaurant in Greenwich Village. After lots of research into finding the real diner that inspired the famous one, it turns out there was no diner. The diner in the painting is a collage of images that Hopper assembled to create his masterwork. Thus no vanishing New York building. Instead, Moss mourns the the loss of a diner that did not exist.
I understand where Moss is coming from. I, on the other hand, remain awed by the power of Hopper’s imagination. On a piece of canvas he captured one late night at an American diner we all feel like we’ve visited at one time or another.
P.S. As a native of Chicago, I must admit that I take a perverse pleasure in the fact that a famous work of New York City art is sitting in an art museum in Chicago.