WORM || (1963) 46"x49"
Original, Signed, Framed in Black
Robert William Hansen
Hansen adopted the use of Duco upon his return from a year spent in Mexico in 1948-1949. In Mexico, Hansen attended a lecture at San Miguel de Allende given by David Alfaro Siqueiros, the great Mexican muralist. Siqueiros encouraged, even demanded, that artists use the newest materials of the industrial age. This included paints that employed a pyroxylin binder, the chemical basis for the product sold as Duco. The idea appealed to Hansen. He immediately obtained the lacquer and other industrial materials upon his return to the United States.
Hansen became steeped in the style and iconography of Mexican mural painting. The monumental figures and the muscular drawing style of the Mexican muralists are reflected in the paintings Hansen did after returning from Mexico. This can be seen in one of his most acclaimed series, entitled Man-Men.
Hansen is fundamentally a figurative painter, and the figures that populate his paintings display an endless variety of postures. The figures are highly mannered (not classical in proportion). Sometimes they stand alone, squarely facing the viewer. They stare, often blankly. The figures can be passive or aggressive, humble or god-like. In some paintings, single figures seem to float or balance precariously. In other paintings, figures huddle in mass. Alone or grouped together, they are universal -- the skin of individuality has been stripped from them.
Hansen's themes have to do with the fundamental elements of life (embryonic and phallic forms are present in many paintings), the paradoxes of the world, and the struggles of humanity, both singly and collectively. There is an overwhelming sense of spirituality and symbolism that pervades his paintings, even if one is hesitant to define those symbols in a precise manner. Hansen, in fact, regards his paintings as depictions of reality that transcend fixed interpretations. What Hansen depicts is primal and elemental, and the cumulative total of his work has the grandeur of a myth.
In the early 1960s, DuPont ceased the manufacture of Duco. Hansen stockpiled large quantities of the material, which he used until the cans began to rust in the mid-1980s. He retired from his longtime faculty position in the Art Department at Occidental College, where he used a campus studio to execute many of his painting. Following his retirement in 1987, he ceased painting (but resumed in the 1990s, using acrylics and continuing his figurative interests).
Dennis Reed is Dean of Arts at Los Angeles Valley College. He has written about artist Richard Pettibone, early Los Angeles abstraction, and the history of photography for such institutions as UCLA; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the J. Paul Getty Museum and The Huntington, among others.
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