Around the mid 60s, Hanson started making
figurative casts using fiberglass and vinyl. His initial figures were
somewhat brutal and violent, and were influenced by the work of American
installation artist Edward Kienholz (1927-94) - notorious for Back
Seat Dodge 38 (1964, Los Angeles County Museum of Art). An example
was Abortion (1966), a 2 foot long mixed media rendering of a dead
pregnant woman sprawled on a table and covered with a sheet. It demonstrated
his horror at the backstreet procedure, but more importantly showed his
growing interest in contemporary life. His first version was small, and
provoked a public reaction in the South Florida art scene. He later created
a life-size version, which he later destroyed. In 1967, he created Accident,
which showed a motorcycle crash and Race Riot (1969) which included
among its seven figures, a white policeman terrorising an African-American
male. Other violent works included Riot (1967), Football Players
(1969) and Vietnam Scene (1969). By 1967, Hanson was creating his
sculptures directly from the bodies of human models, this became his standard
working method for the rest of his career.
Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to evaluate contemporary figurative sculptors like Duane
Hanson, see: How
to Appreciate Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, please see: How
to Appreciate Sculpture.
In the early 1970s, Hanson abandoned his terror-tactic subjects for a
more subtle one. Young Shopper (1973, Saatchi Gallery) was a polyester
and fibreglass statue of a plump woman, wearing
real clothes, polychromed in oil, and carrying real life accessories.
When describing his sculpture, Hanson said: 'I like the physical burdens
this woman carries. She is weighed down by all her shopping bags, and
she has become almost a bag herself. She carries physical burdens
the burdens of life, of everyday living. But initially, it's quite a funny
sculpture'. Other works from this period include Supermarket Shopper
(1970, Padiglione d'arte Contemporanea, Milan) and Museum Guard
(1975, Padiglione d'arte, Milan). Although art
critics often compare his work to figures in a wax museum, the content
of his sculptures may be considered more expressive and complex. The works
are cast from real people, replicated in fiberglass and reinforced with
fiber resin. The skin is even painted with realistic veins and blemishes.
The clothes come from second hand stores. Like the French Realists he
admired, such as Jean-Francois Millet and Honore Daumier, Hanson tried
to make social parallels between life and art. He was also influenced
by trompe l'oeil painters
like John Frederick Peto, and the intense realism of Edward Hopper.
It is often assumed that Hanson used a different model for each sculpture,
but this is not true. When he found a shape of person he liked, he would
often recast him/her in different settings. His Queen II (1988,
Saatchi Gallery, London) and Tourists II (1988, Saatchi Gallery,
London), although possessing different heads and different skin tones,
are the same model. In addition, he sometimes preferred the 'ideal' to
the 'real'. For instance, when searching for a model for Cowboy
(1995, Joslyn Art Museum), he met several cowboys and rodeo hands, but
all lacked the macho image he required. He eventually found a Florida
carpenter who matched his criteria! All in all, it could be a long process.
As he said: 'Most of my time involves casting, repairing, assembling,
painting, correcting it until it pleases me. That takes some doing as
I'm rarely satisfied'.
Process for Making a Sculpture
The process for making a sculpture from a model took about 6 months. First
Hanson took a Polaroid picture of his model, coaxing them into a position
which would make them look relaxed and credible. The model, who was asked
to shave off their body hair, was greased with petroleum jelly to ensure
the easy removal of the casting material. A fast setting silicone rubber
was applied to the model's skin, limb by limb. When the mould dried, it
was cut up the back and removed from the model. Hanson poured liquid polyester
resin reinforced with fiberglass into the mould, working from the feet
up. Hanson's goal was to create a figure that look natural, un-posed and
authentic. When painting the sculpture, he had to exaggerate the shading
and light, particularly around the eyes to get a natural effect. He used
acrylic paint, followed by oil paint to get the correct skin tone. He
experimented with crayons and nail polish over oil paint on the fingernails.
For those sculptures made from hard polyester resin, he bought wigs, while
those made from softer vinyl materials allowed hairs to be poked through
the skull with a needle, for a more realistic illusion.
A favourite of the celebrated contemporary art collector Charles Saatchi,
from 1969 onwards Hanson exhibited in many of the best
art museums in North America, including the Whitney
Museum of American Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Brown
University Art Museum, Eve Mannes Gallery Atlanta, and Montreal Museum
of Fine Arts, as well as international venues like the Galerie Neuendorf
Frankfurt, Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art, Diamaru
Museum of Art Tokyo and the Saatchi Gallery London. His inclusion in Documenta
5, in 1972 in Kassel, Germany brought him international fame. He died
in 1996, established as a major American artist of the 20th century, whose
work bridges both the modern and contemporary eras.