There are a lot of people in Duane Hanson’s show and that’s not including the gallerygoers. A cowboy is propped against the wall by the entrance. A lady sits at an ad hoc yard sale surrounded by paintings and books. Duster in hand, a cleaner grips on to her cart of sanitation supplies. Workmen are taking a well-earned break from grafting. And a house painter has half finished covering the gallery’s back wall in a shade of baby pink. These, of course, aren’t real people. They are the meticulously crafted fibreglass and bronze fabrications of the late American sculptor, who sought to capture the familiar and daily activities of Middle America.
They represent a considerable populous that are typically ignored. Some sit on the fringes of society, like ‘Homeless Person’, (1991) who holds a cardboard sign proclaiming ‘Will work for food.’
It would seem society hasn’t really moved on since Hanson began making his hyperreal sculptures in the late 1960s. His intention to ‘achieve a certain tough realism, which speaks of the fascinating idiosyncrasies of our time’ makes his work as relevant now as it was 40 years ago. By placing figures like ‘Queenie II’, (1988) within a gallery context, Hanson forces us to take notice of the menial worker, the bum, the ordinary men and women who are so often overlooked. He shifts our focus so that the typical becomes extraordinary.
Although there is obvious ageing to the sculpture’s material, it doesn’t diminish their awe factor. But once the double-taking has subsided, you can really start to embrace the intensity of Hanson’s handy work. Turning up the harsh realities barometer is one of Hanson’s earliest pieces, ‘Trash’ (1967). Deceptively shocking, it confronts you with the unimaginable as a baby’s body lies among a bin’s debris. This is counterbalanced by mundane scenarios with satirical wit, like ‘Self Portrait with Model’ (1979) in which Hanson casts himself drinking a Coke while a female companion reads a diet magazine with her empty ice-cream sundae glass in close proximity. Fluctuating between bleak and captivating, Hanson’s creations will certainly make you think twice next time you choose to look the other way.
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There's something quite heart-breaking about these sculptures, which is a testament to Hanson's arcane ability to capture the sentiments of the working-class, American individuals he presents. It's a strong collection of works and you'll be tempted to endlessly stare at these pieces rather than pose with them for a selfie.