Painter Duncan Hannah passes away at 70
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Painter Duncan Hannah passes away at 70
Duncan Hannah at the opening of a show of his work at New Release, a gallery in Chinatown in New York, April 6, 2016. Hannah, who immersed himself in the boisterous art-and-club scene of 1970s New York — vividly documenting it in a 2018 book drawn from diaries he kept — and then in the 1980s became a well-regarded artist himself, died on Saturday, June 11, 2022, at his home in Cornwall, Conn. He was 69. Benjamin Norman/The New York Times.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Modernism is saddened to announce the passing away of Duncan Hannah at 70.

Duncan Hannah was a painter, collagist, draftsman and writer who had over a hundred solo shows throughout the United States (including six solo shows at Modernism in San Francisco since 1984), England, France, Holland, Seoul and Israel since his debut in 1981. Born in 1952 in Minneapolis Minnesota, Hannah studied at Bard College and the Parsons School of Design in New York. He lived in Brooklyn, NY and West Cornwall, CT.

Duncan Hannah created a world evocative of an earlier era, with quiet theatricality and unspoken narratives. With Europe often the setting for his atmospheric scenes, the artist reinvented a period in which fashionable figures wander the streets of London and Paris, a classic car races in the Monaco Grand Prix, and a train makes it way through the snow-laden Alps.

Hannah favored mysteries left open to interpretation, and liked to wander in time, as a filmmaker or novelist might. With this bit of distance, his paintings become fictions of an invented world.

In a 2021 essay for Duncan Hannah’s most recent exhibition at Modernism, Robert Flynn Johnson, Curator Emeritus of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, wrote of Hannah:

In a world where success is often recognized by publicity or notoriety, it is refreshing and invigorating to discuss the art of Duncan Hannah. Mr. Hannah is supremely immune to unbecoming jockeying for attention, content to allow his paintings to speak for themselves. As the artist, Peter Milton, once said when asked for an artist’s statement, “I’d be a poor father indeed if I had to speak for my children.”

Hannah possesses hard earned skill and encyclopedic knowledge, transferring his intelligence, passion, curiosity, and even occasional whimsy onto the canvas in the way he desires. Rather than being shunned for his stubborn independence, Hannah has developed a select and passionate following. Like some auteur filmmaker, Hannah has developed an audience that “gets it,” and eagerly collect his artistic output.

To properly understand the art of Duncan Hannah, it is important to know his background. A Midwesterner from Minnesota, he always aspired to be an artist and realized early on that only in New York City was that goal truly to be fulfilled. There, like many, he had a few false steps, for him, a brief foray into abstraction. Later, some sideways experiences as a member of the Warhol crowd, a short career as an underground film actor, and several years as a successful illustrator. It was only in the early 1970s, however, that Hannah at last realized that his fate was to follow his passion, despite the lack of approbation by the art world. It was to paint in the representational tradition of his heroes like Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, and Edwin Dickinson.

Duncan Hannah is a true artistic expatriate despite living in Brooklyn and Connecticut. Memories of his time living in Europe and his absorption of the manners and traditions of England and the Continent are ever present in his paintings.

Hannah’s paintings were featured in The Times Square Show (1980), New York/New Wave (P.S.1, 1981), and The Club 57 Show (MoMA, 2018). His work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Minneapolis Art Institute. Hannah was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2011. Hannah’s journals from the 70’s, “Twentieth Century Boy” were published by Knopf in 2018, and Vintage in 2019, and by Rowohlt (Berlin) in 2021.

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