New York

Duncan Hannah

Tatistcheff & Company, Inc.

Eschewing the predictability that comes with tying one’s career to any one set of issues, Duncan Hannah has indefatigably pursued his personal vision. While he has been discussed under any number of handy tags—neo-Romanticism, neo-Surrealism, and, of course, post-Modernism—in truth these designations say very little about of his work.

A realist who has managed to marry the linear and painterly modes of description in a distinctive style, Hannah is a genuine believer in the redemptive powers of the visual image to illuminate life. Like the paintings of Edward Hopper and Amedeo Modigliani (to pick two artists who have interested him) Hannah’s images constitute an engaged poetry—a method of selective enhancement whereby he discovers subjects he can fine-tune into a dramatic structure infused with multivalent meanings.

Childhood, which has functioned for Hannah as a mother lode of inspiration, was the subject of this show of drawings. Drawing is a key activity in the process by which Hannah makes his source material—whether it is an illustration from an old magazine or book or some anonymous vintage photograph—his own creation, and this exhibition demonstrated his deft and engaging command of pencil, pastel, conté crayon, and charcoal. A master appropriator, Hannah seems to know just how much information to take from his source and, perhaps more importantly, just how much to let go. For example, he retains certain details of period dress—styles of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s—that accord with an archetypal vision of children and places that he carries around inside himself. In the sepia drawing Belfast (all works 1991), depicting a foursome absorbed in a ball game on a street, Hannah is true to the generic types of little boys. What gives this composition its expressive edge, however, is the way in which he presents the action. Hannah has located the figures in the frontal plane, and the ball, which is the focal point of the vista of deep space that opens before the rows of houses merging in the distance, is strategically positioned just off-center. While on the surface the setting can be taken as peaceful and prosaic, it also suggests a breeding ground for danger. The atmosphere is thick with tensions produced by the flickering quality of the wiry strokes with which Hannah lays down shadows. Given the designated place (Belfast, where children are perhaps as likely to throw bombs as balls), this reading is hardly farfetched.

In addition to the games children play (Jump Rope focuses on the ritualistic aspects of even basic amusements), the worlds of school and home provide equally rich grounds for Hannah’s explorations of sense and sensibility in 20th-century life.

Ronny Cohen