Philip Hanson, I’m nobody! Who are you? (Dickinson), 2014, oil on canvas, 60 1/8 × 48 1/8".

Philip Hanson

James Cohan Gallery | Tribeca

Philip Hanson, I’m nobody! Who are you? (Dickinson), 2014, oil on canvas, 60 1/8 × 48 1/8".

For “It is too difficult a Grace,” his first New York solo show since 1997, Philip Hanson exhibited a dozen paintings made between 2014 and the present, along one with one dated 2010. In these works, the Chicago-based painter takes as his subject matter words—to be specific, lines from the poetry of Blake, Dickinson, and (in the earlier painting) Gerard Manley Hopkins. Those are, needless to say, formidable names to conjure with. Is it really wise to insert oneself into such exalted company?

To a great extent, these engaging works manage to assuage such qualms—mainly by determinedly putting off turning the viewer into a reader. That is, it’s never less than obvious that there are words in the paintings, but Hanson pulls out all the stops to keep you more involved in experiencing them visually than in construing their sense. It’s like listening to an operatic aria in which

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