Duane Hanson was born in Alexandria, Minnesota. After attending Luther College and the University of Washington, he graduated from Macalaster College in 1946. Following a period of teaching art in high school he received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills in 1951.
He began making his cast figures around 1966 and became associated with the Pop Art movement. Works that first brought him notice were of figures grouped in tableaux, usually of brutal and violent subjects, somewhat similar to the work of Edward Keinholz.
Later his work became more about social comment, creating archetypal Americans. These works, cast from actual people, were made of fibreglass (polyester resin reinforced with fibreglass,) painted to make the revealed skin look realistic with veins and blemishes. Hanson then clothed the figures with clothes from second-hand clothing stores and theatrically arranged them.
Couple with Shopping Bags (1976)
The momentary confusion that Hanson's sculptures were real people sometimes shocked the viewer and put too much attention on the technique, although Hanson argued that the technique was a means to an end. That end is an intense look at less exalted aspects of the world around the viewer. Couple with Shopping Bags (1976) shows two overweight people, wearing mismatched polyester clothes, carrying full bags. The woman's hairdo is complicated and her nails are painted. These certainly are not 'beautiful' human figures in the traditional artistic sense, but they are without question typical of how many 'average' middle-or lower-class Americans looked in the 1970s. Although for most sophisticated art viewers a work such as Couple with Shopping Bags has a pointed humour to it, poking fun at the poor taste so many Americans show in their dress and grooming, these works also have a more sombre quality. The particularities make the figures vivid archetypes of American consumers and remind viewers that all people possess some unusual characteristics.
His work of the 1960s clearly had a social content, and, though it is more subtle, this interest in content continued in the work of the 1970s and 1980s. American greed, materialism, tastelessness, and narrow-mindedness seem to be a part of the later work. The characters within the art are passive, isolated beings, presented as victims of American society and negative values as much as the cause of them. In the 1990s Hanson created figures that challenged people's ideas about prejudice and social class.
Supermarket Lady (1969)
Woman Eating (detail) (1971)
Rita the Waitress (1975)
Self-Portrait with Model (1979)
Woman with Child in a Stroller (1985)
Queenie II (1988)
Tourists II (1988)
Man on Mower (1995)
Man on Mower (detail)
Man on a Bench (1997)