Arts & Entertainment

The Grand Cinema’s art series illuminates history of iconic artists

The theater’s monthly “Exhibition on Screen” series takes a deep dive into artists’ famous works and their background, such as Edward Hopper.

What do you think is behind the famous “Nighthawks” painting by Edward Hopper? What was Hopper’s intention? Why did he use such heavy shadows? Why were there so few people in it? These are some of the questions that are answered in the monthly film series titled “Exhibition on Screen,” where people can view famous works of different artists in a documentary detailing their significance.  

The series, which has been showing at The Grand Cinema for the last nine years, premieres a different film every month. For February, the film they chose was “Edward Hopper: An American Love Story,” which details the famous works from world-renowned artist Edward Hopper. 

The painter grew up in New York City during the late 1800s when there was a big industrial shift. Hopper’s work showcased several aspects of New York from empty buildings and large factories to middle-class citizens in their day-to-day lives. This led to Hopper being regarded as one of the most famous realist painters in America for creating a lifetime’s worth of paintings that reflect the American experience but in unconventional ways.  

One painting titled “Early Sunday Morning” details a quiet and isolated image of a New York City business before they open. Its flooding of light into the store’s windows reflects that a new day is about to begin. Rather than showing a lonely scene of the American streets, this one evokes opportunity, enthusiasm and life. Its bright colors and decadent emptiness are a reminder of the beauty in peaceful moments.  

“Early Sunday Morning” by Edward Hopper.

The film reflects deeply on these features of Hopper’s work, specifically his choice to only include one or two people in almost all his paintings.  

His most famous painting “Nighthawks,” created in 1942, portrays a quiet night in a downtown New York diner, where three people sit as an employee works the counter. The perspective is through the diner’s large glass window which takes up almost the entire frame. However, as we get closer, we can see more fine details behind the window that help tell more of the story.  

“’Nighthawks’ is Hopper’s most well-known painting”, said Carol Troyen, a curator of artwork at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, in the film. “It’s been parodied many times and people just love it because there are so many things that don’t add up. And the longer you look, the more puzzling it becomes. Not only what are these people doing there in the middle of the night, but since there is no door, you have no way to join these individuals.” 

“Nighthawks” has been characterized by many art critics as enigmatic because there are many qualities that don’t add up. The more revelations you find, the less you understand the painting’s meaning. The missing door and position of the individuals suggest that they might know each other. However, the facial expressions of the woman and man sitting down together conveys that they are disconnected.  

The film closely pans up into the small corners of the artwork where we see small brushstrokes of different shadows used to create the scene’s depth. It’s a darkly covered city backdrop broken up by a bright yellow light teeming from the diner. A closer look shows how careful Hopper was with every brushstroke he made. Nothing went unnoticed and every decision was intentional.  

The film tries to characterize Hopper’s choices in his artwork through events that occurred during his life. At the time of this painting, Pearl Harbor had been attacked one year previously. The painting can suggest the anxieties and fear many Americans felt at the time surrounding the uncertainty of war. We don’t know why the people in the diner are there on this particular night, but we get the feeling that they are experiencing a similar emotion by their body language. Another art critic in the film suggests that it embraces the solitude in a peaceful, quiet night.  

The film, which premiered January 30, can also be viewed on PBS’s website for a $5 donation: 

The Grand Cinema’s next “Exhibition on Screen” film will be “Mary Cassett: Painting the Modern Woman,” which will premiere on March 5. It will showcase the works and life of the famous American painter Mary Cassett, who is known for her perceptive depictions of woman and children during the late 1800s.  

You can buy tickets to the showing at The Grand Cinema or on their website: 

Tacoma students who show a valid driver’s license and school ID card can get tickets for free at the box office. For more info, visit: