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Duane Hanson

 (1925 - 1996)
Duane Hanson was active/lived in Florida, New York, Minnesota.  Duane Hanson is known for sculptor of super real figures.

Duane Hanson

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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 appearance.

Hanson was nearly forty-years old before finding the method and subject matter that became his signature work.

Hanson received his BA from Macalester College in 1946 and his MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 1951.

Apparently 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.

According 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.

In 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.

While 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 sculpture.

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.

These 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.

From 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 1984.

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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About  Duane Hanson

Born:  1925 - Alexandria, Minnesota
Died:   1996 - Boca Raton, Florida
Known for:  sculptor of super real figures

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Duane Hanson