|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Duane Hanson, born in Alexandria, Minnesota, is known for his
ultra-realistic sculpture depicting ordinary people going about their
daily-life activities such as mowing lawns, sitting at tables, playing
games, etc. His concepts relate to Pop Art in that mundane
objects/people are treated as though they have worth and artistic
merit, and to Photo-Realism because his figures are deceptively real in
Hanson was nearly forty-years old before finding the method and subject matter that became his signature work.
received his BA from Macalester College in 1946 and his MFA from the
Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 1951.
from an early age, Hanson was interested in recreating the human form.
One of his first known sculptures is a three-dimensional wood rendering
of the figure in Thomas Gainsborough's famous portrait The Blue Boy (c. 1770). Hanson created his version of Blue Boy in 1938 when he was only thirteen, living with his family in the small and isolated town of Parkers Prairie, Minnesota.
to the artist, there was only one small library in town, with only one
art history book, in which he discovered Gainsborough's portrait of a
dashing young man wearing blue satin breeches. Hanson carved Blue Boy
out of softwood, using tools from around his home, including his
mother's butcher knife. His early sculptural efforts also
included carving his mother's old broomsticks into miniature
representations of the human form, both nude and clothed.
1941, he made a trip to Minneapolis, where he visited an art museum for
the first time. His first formal art training began two years
later when he enrolled in college. One of the few sculptures that
survives from Hanson's college years is a small soapstone likeness of a
woman spanking a child. This sculpture, which he created in the
mid 1940s, while a student at Macalester College in St. Paul, is
probably one of the earliest that he produced in a medium other than
wood, and it is noticeably more stylized and abstract than Blue Boy and the miniatures.
at college, Hanson was introduced to the dominant artistic trends of
the period, which were shifting away from Naturalism toward
Abstraction. Woman Spanking Child represents an early
attempt by Hanson to reconcile his naturalistic sculptural inclinations
with Abstract Expressionism, a struggle that would consume him
throughout the late 1940s and 1950s. This is implied in a
statement Hanson made later in his life: ". . . I went to school and
heard you had to be modern. . . I didn't really warm up until Pop Art
made Realism legitimate again."
The work of the Pop artists of
the 1960s, which were usually direct, literal renderings of commonplace
objects, such as soup cans and Brillo boxes, undoubtedly encouraged
Hanson to yield to his naturalistic inclinations. One of the
first sculptures Hanson created after moving to South Florida in 1965
was Abortion, a two-foot-long mixed-media rendering of a dead pregnant woman sprawled on a table and covered with a sheet.
Abortion reveals that by 1965 Hanson had not only embraced realism, but had begun to comment on contemporary life. When Abortion
was publicly displayed for the first time in Miami, it provoked
vehement reactions, both favorable and negative, and Hanson suddenly
became a celebrity in the South Florida art scene. Soon after he
recreated Abortion in life size. Although he was
disappointed with the larger version and later destroyed it, he never
again worked on a small scale.
From 1962-1965, Hanson was an
art professor at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. While in Atlanta, he
was commissioned to produce several large decorative sculptures for the
exterior of buildings, including the Stormy Petrel at the Dorough Field
House of Oglethorpe University. It was during his time at
Oglethorpe that Hanson received a grant from the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust
to develop his work with life-sized polyester resin and fiberglass
By 1967 he began casting sculptures in molds created
directly from the bodies of human models, which became his standard
method of working for the rest of his career. He saw himself as a
social observer, creating types that one might have read about in
Balzac, shown as documents of their time, warts and all.
life-like sculptures of the human form, which he painted and
embellished with accessories such as hair, clothes and a variety of
props, attracted attention beyond South Florida. In 1967, New
York art dealer Ivan Karp showed significant interest in his work, and
in 1969 Hanson moved to Manhattan, where his sculptures were shown in
solo exhibitions in that city, and then throughout the United States,
and in Germany.
Although Hanson's move broadened his work's
exposure in the New York art world, he grew weary of the city. In
1973 he returned to South Florida, settling in Davie where he lived for
the rest of his life.
Despite Hanson's absence from New York,
his work's esteem and popularity continued to increase, and it was
during the 1970s that he attained international recognition.
1976-78, a major retrospective of his sculptures went on an extended
museum tour throughout the United States. One solo exhibition in
particular, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City
(1978), was influential in establishing Hanson as one of the leading
sculptors of the late twentieth century. The exhibition
unexpectedly attracted more than 297,000 visitors, thereby setting an
attendance record for the museum that has never been surpassed.
Hanson was named Florida Ambassador of the Arts in 1983. His
first bronze sculptures were featured in a solo exhibition in Japan in
Throughout his mature career, Hanson's intent as an
artist was not merely to impress the viewer with the incredible reality
of his sculpture. An indication of this was his fondness for
quoting Henry David Thoreau's statement that "the mass of men lead
lives of quiet desperation."
He looked for models who would be
representative of a certain situation in life and said he liked to
bring out a 'heaviness' that he found in our times, a kind of sadness.
In the downcast, sober gazes of Hanson's archetypes of humanity, most
of which were inspired by working-class subjects, one senses that he
wanted to comment on the contemporary human condition, that he intended
to reflect the sense of isolation, loneliness, and alienation that we
experience in the modern world.
Hanson died January 6, 1996 in Boca Raton, Florida.
Christie's New York
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
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