The sculptor's "slice-of-life" figures and their ordinary activities are frozen forever in their poses and actions.
Duane Hanson took sculpture off its pedestal and removed the boundaries that separated art from life. His intention was to represent a cross-section of American society by focusing on the singularities of individuals. In addition to their lifelike exteriors, his works communicate the internal attitudes and experiences of Hanson's subjects. It is this combination of the physical and psychological that elicits a broad range of emotional responses from the spectator.
Born in 1925, Hanson first took up sculpture as a teenager, but it was not until 1967 that art became a full-time career for him, when he settled on the concept and process that would mark all his later works. Through the realism produced by direct body casting, he explored the emotions of otherwise "invisible" Americans. When seen in a museum context, these sculptures effect a kind of super-realism that forcibly focuses viewers' attention on the resignation and desolation the artist perceived in ordinary lives.
Hanson grew up in the rural Minnesota town of Parkers Prairie. As a teenager, he taught himself to carve and sculpt, demonstrating a natural inclination toward the human form. His early works were created from whatever materials were at hand, often logs or old broomsticks, and carved with his mother's butcher knife. "Blue Boy," done at the age of 13, was inspired by Thomas Gainsborough's 18th-century painting, which Hanson saw in reproduction in the only art history book in his school library. It wasn't until he went to college that he received his first formal art training. In 1946, he graduated from Macalester College as the school's first art major.
Although Hanson continued to sculpt during the 1950s, little of his work from this decade survives. Pieces such as "Female Bust" are more abstract than his early work, though they still are representative. This stylistic shift was influenced by Abstract Expressionism, the prevailing art movement of the 1950s. In the end, however, Hanson resisted the pressure of the vanguard. As he explained his art of this period, "I would try to do abstract work, but I always put a bit of an arm or nose in it. I never could do just nonfigurative work."
From 1953 to 1960, Hanson lived in Munich and Bremerhaven, Germany, working as an art teacher for the U.S. Army Dependent School System. It was in Germany that he began to...