• Cowboy

    • Appearing as striking today as when it was first created almost three decades ago, Cowboy, 1984-1985, stands before us as a towering statement on Americana. One of nine unique works by the artist, all dedicated to the most iconic of American symbols, this lone life-size cowboy cast in bronze, painted in soft oils and fully clothed, evokes a stunning visage of the traditional cattle rancher of the Old West.

      For the entire span of his career, since the mid-1960s, till his death in 1996, American artist Duane Hanson was vehemently preoccupied with the portrayal of the human form. Yet unlike his modern predecessors and contemporaries, Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso, or Willem de Kooning, Hanson always maintained a strict adherence to faithful and painstakingly accurate representation. Unlike his peers who were at the time chiefly concerned with exploring the artist’s involvement and impact on the medium, Hanson quietly practiced a seemingly obsolete sculptural philosophy. The artist commented on his own practice the same year Cowboy was created:

      "There are these observations that I would make about my work. First of all, and above all, I’m a sculptor. My most important concern is to get all the forms to look right. I try to eliminate faulty distortions and areas that look too flat... Then there is a matter of impact. I use models… who are physically large and (to me) very sculptural. The third is one of communicating. This often takes care of itself. I express my feelings of empathy for the subjects I portray through their weariness and despair."  —Duane Hanson

      Hanson’s method was intricate and labor-intensive. For his sculptures, casts were first made from plaster using live models. Specific individuals chosen by the artist were neither famous nor recognizable people. In fact, Hanson often used members of his own family for his works. This deliberate decision allows the sculptures to be a personification of everyday people, whether they are a shopper, a security guard, or even a cowboy, while at the same time making us, the viewers, confront an actual individual. By eliminating our possibility as bystanders to renegade the work to abstraction or a faceless character in a crowd, Hanson manages to gently impress upon us a relatability to the work. We feel compassion, tenderness, and perhaps even a sense of our own selves reflected within the sculpture.

      As renowned critic Jerry Saltz denoted in his critique of Hanson’s 1998 retrospective at The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York: “ ...In this way, Hanson brings out your humanity, your soft spots and prejudices… all these moods start to funnel into some amazingly existential American place just this side of the imaginary town of Hopper's Solitude. Then it hits you: these aren't types at all -- these are portraits of states of mind, feelings and inner qualities.”i

      i Jerry Saltz, "An American Family", the Village Voice, January 12, 1999.

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Camille Henrot