A Visit to the Studio of Philip Hanson

The artist finally gets his due at the Whitney Biennial this month—and it only took 50 years of exhibitions.

Philip Hanson   Photo: Ratko Radojcic

After 50 years of exhibitions, this member of that 1960s group of iconoclasts known as the Hairy Who finally gets his due at the Whitney Biennial this month.

Philip Hanson’s fantastical oil paintings are as wild as they are intricate—look closely, and you’ll see that no corner is ever left untouched. Here’s what he had to say on a recent visit to his studio.

Do you collect anything?

I don’t have a Roger Brown or a Karl Wirsum kind of house. My house isn’t full of things. I did collect a bunch of stuff in the sixties and seventies, boxes of tin toys and things found at Maxwell Street. I would go with Ray [Yoshida] and Christina [Ramberg] and Jim [Nutt].

That has become the creation myth of the Chicago Imagists.

That’s cute. The story is true, though. It connects our art to the city. Maxwell Street was great at that moment. We were looking for popular culture and finding it there.

Now your paintings mix poetry with music. Are you synesthetic?

I wish. I can’t carry a tune and don’t know much about music, but it moves me a lot. It’s embarrassing to say, but with painting I strive toward something like a Bach cantata, with all those things going on, things shifting underneath each other. Sometimes there’s just sequences of tones, and then it suddenly becomes immensely emotional.

The fresh paint in here smells good.

That probably means it’s not good for you. Anything that smells good probably isn’t good for you.

Hanson is one of 17 Chicago artists in the Whitney Biennial opening March 7 in New York City.

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