Gaylen Hansen, \"Fish Ladder,\" 2009
Acrylic on canvas, 48\" x 60\"
Photo: courtesy Linda Hodges Gallery
For his eleventh solo show at Linda Hodges since 1988, 88-year-old painter Gaylen Hansen further confirmed that he is working at the height of his powers and shows no sign of slowing down. After six museum surveys (starting with Seattle Art Museum in 1959) and acclaimed gallery shows in New York, Berlin, Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere, the Otis Art Institute student (Class of 1940) has blazed a pathway that shifted in and out of abstraction to settle by the mid-1970s on a signature figurative-narrative style that has been hugely influential but never equaled or completely copied.
The private darling of New Museum curator Marcia Tucker and New York Times art critic John Russell, Hansen\'s crusty persona or artist stand-in character, the Kernal, enchanted Russell who saw an artist \"in total isolation from the high art that is held in honor on the Northeastern seaboard.\" This was not completely accurate, as the new works underscore. Fully informed about many art movements including Abstract Expressionism (which Hansen practiced wholeheartedly until 1965), Hansen\'s work has always belied such condescension. All this has also been obscured by readings of Hansen\'s imagery as alternately ecological, apocalyptic, or aw-shucks personal and corny. Mangy dogs become werewolves [Blue Dogs (One with Red Eye), 2009]; fish become larger than bears (Bear and Orange Fish, 2009); and animals are often larger than the Kernal. Nature is now in a permanent state of panic for Hansen, whose flat spaces and distant vistas act as gentle jeremiads about the environment. Unlike many ecologically-minded younger artists, Hansen is never explicitly political; he knows how quickly that will date an artwork. Instead, adapting social conscience to a subjective vision of Old West storytelling, he has peopled a region and now a world with an ideal of human-animal coexistence. The new work affirms how unisolated he is and how, over and over, that world has noticed him as an artist of smoldering originality and increasing stature.