The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Galerie Dennis Cooper presents … Duncan Hannah *

* (restored)


‘Contemporary art depends upon context, a commonplace perhaps, but the artist’s intentions, tactics and talents are today always adjudged depending upon the where and the how of their presentation. Thus we are presented with the enigma of Duncan Hannah, a New Yorker enviably freighted with pop cultural mythology, a veritable Zelig who runs in the most modish Manhattan circles, confrere to everyone from Vincent Gallo to Johnny Thunders and Patti Smith, but whose oeuvre is fully pledged to some Anglophile Arcadia.

‘Hannah makes no secret of his heroes, artists such as William Nicholson, Henry Lamb, Augustus John, William Orpen and, above all, Walter Sickert, the greatest painter of the 20th century in his highly considered opinion. Once launched upon that enjoyable albeit ultimately reductive “comparison game,” one might be tempted to bandy about the names of those very early-20th-century American artists in Europe like Richard Hayley Lever, Robert Henri and especially Edward Hopper (in regard to his early oil sketches of Paris). While here in New York, Hannah might appear as an eccentric maestro trading in make-believe; on the other side of the Atlantic, he has the status of a connoisseur re-mixing and extending the English tradition in a logical progression.

‘But that is not it at all. That is not what it means at all, to paraphrase another WASP anglophile, because though Hannah welcomes and, most importantly, can well withstand detailed practical comparison with the above artists, his actual technique and sheer skill remaining nonpareil, he is entirely aware his work will not be thus judged. For rather than being ranked against such past masters, rated according to the rules of, say, the Slade under the tutelage of the legendary taskmaster Henry Tonks, Hannah’s work is, of course, appraised by the criteria of the international art-game of 2007, by the flavor-of-this-month rather than the last or next one. And as such, its position becomes the more intriguing, its capacity for resistance and restitution to current practice all the richer.

‘For though the history of postwar figurative painting undoubtedly exaggerates its isolation and disparagement, a “myth of opposition” against the reality of its continual healthy existence, it is certainly true that when Hannah attended art school at Bard in 1972 it was far from the dominant mode. Nor was it usual to find one’s imagery exclusively among French or English subject matter from the 1920s and ‘30s, most notably its cinema.

‘But tracking the micro-history of such phenomena one should be aware that there are fashions in nostalgia as well as everything else. And Hannah’s impressionable jeunesse coincided with that first, early 1970s fascination with all things retro, from Chanel to F. Scott Fitzgerald, cocktails and flappers, Jazz & Zoot, as evinced by everything from the Art Deco revival to Biba, Roxy Music and The Boyfriend. The downtown New York scene of the mid-‘70s included deliberately old-fashioned dandies, including McDermott & McGough who actually back-dated their paintings to much earlier decades, among a groundswell of rising figurative tendencies.

‘In such a milieu it makes sense that when Hannah told his friend and mentor Andy Warhol he was trying to paint like Balthus that Andy should reply, “Oh, what a great idea. Gee, we must do that, we’ve got to paint like Balthus!” For the supposedly reactionary and the radical are forever admixed into the very DNA of figurative painting, a series of actions and re-actions which continually shift the discourse of this medium.

‘One strategy to enrich this argument is through narrative, fantasy and plot — that always moot issue of pictorial story-telling. This might be exemplified by a 1987 exhibition organized by Douglas Blau in New York which gathered such fabulists of the era as Troy Brauntuch, Mark Innerst, Michelle Zalopany, Jack Goldstein and Mark Tansey. This was entitled “Fictions,” which curiously is the same name as Hannah’s current show in which the literary link is made all the clearer thanks to a recent series of 41 x 48 cm. paintings that systematically portray the covers of period Penguin and Pelican paperbacks.

‘Framed by the gallery’s doorway so they become a dominant element of the exhibition, these works are paradoxically very much paintings, their relative looseness and brushwork proclaiming their status, their scale and texture distancing them further, while their titles prompt topical comparison, whether Art in England or Undertones of War. These works have a Jasperian nay Johnsesque semantic double-bluff, their painterliness and thingness working towards and against each other, a rebus that confounds our reductive expectations of the object through bravura painterly panache.

‘Hannah clearly loves these things, he loves not only the design and typography of such books but also what they represent, an entire period of Anglo-Saxon publishing, a vanished world within which they were quotidian objects and which still exists inside the texts of these volumes. These Penguin books are simultaneously artifacts of antiquity and bearers, containers of its continued message, still readable, re-visitable today, to be potentially recaptured by the act of reading as Hannah pins the past in paint.

‘This love is the key to Hannah’s oeuvre, a refusal to give up what he most admires, what in truth he most wants, whether Scottish Twilight or German Gymnast — however remote they might seem in time or reality, they can be his, and ours, through the transmogrification of art. Hannah is, without hesitation or embarrassment a romantic whose attraction to the past is so palpable, so resonant, it is immediately communicated to the most casual viewer.

‘At the risk of burying his singular talent under an avalanche of names the most pertinent comparison between Hannah and other contemporary practitioners would be with Karen Kilimnik (who shares his Mod London penchant) and Elizabeth Peyton, whose esthetic is also based upon a love — fandom — both pop and regal.

‘If all art is in some sense about “loss,” Hannah suggests that through the alchemy of image-making, through the long, laborious and pleasurable task in itself, the artist may “lose” himself while finding, restoring, the sanctity of the physical world and all its antecedent history.’ — Adrian Dannatt



Duncan Hannah page @ Facebook
Duncan Hannah’s Blog
Duncan Hannah at Castillo/Corrales
Duncan Hannah interviewed in 1982 by Simon Lane
‘Duncan Hannah and Anna Taylor (1981)’
Duncan Hannah works @ Paddle8
Duncan Hannah @ IMDb
‘The lady vanishes: Nova Pilbeam’
‘Le dandy Duncan Hannah’
‘Spotlight On Artist Duncan Hannah’


The artist in his youth



Paradigm Presents Rear Window with Duncan Hannah

Trailer: ‘Unmade Beds’ (1976), starring Duncan Hannah & Deborah Harry

Trailer: ‘The Foreigner’ (1978), starring Duncan Hannah & Deborah Harry

An Afternoon With… Duncan Hannah


Duncan Hannah in Manhattan
from Remodelista

“I have a large collection of classic Penguin paperbacks, and they’re so beautiful,” Hannah says. “I paint them with all their distressed-ness, and dog ears and rips. I must have done 80 or 90, and I started making some up, like Cautionary Tales by Duncan Hannah, a book I was going to write about my life and times. I only got so far as the cover.”

Having grown up in Minneapolis, Hannah “can definitely see the St. Paul in F. Scott Fitzgerald; partly it’s that yearning he had to be in the East.” Hannah’s Triumph in Brussels (Above) also reflects yearning: “It harkens back to when I was a kid in the 50’s, and thought adulthood would mean having a gorgeous sports car and a redhead at your side.”

“Sometimes I feel ghetto-ized by people who say, ‘oh, it’s nostalgia,'” Hannah says. “The way I paint, I suppose you could find in a painting from 1935. But I had to teach myself to paint that way. Once I realized there was a narrative impulse I wanted to explore, I slavishly studied paintings by dead painters to try to figure out how to do it.”

Just as the 18th-century English painter George Stubbs was famous for his thoroughbreds, “I thought maybe I should paint a series of race cars,” Hannah says. “Getting the gleam on the fenders was really fun.”

Hannah describes his work as “a trip through other times, done in a rather straightforward style” that he arrived at after artist David Hockney told him, in the 1970s, to “take all the gimmicks out.”

Among the “gimmicks” Hannah abandoned: writing on paintings, and borders, and scribbly bits that were there to make a painting look jazzy. “Hockney said this was like putting your painting in quotes, and hedging your bets, instead of trusting your painting to itself,” Hannah says. “He said, ‘Forget about the zeitgeist.’ ”

“I was always an imaginative kid and I loved other eras, cultural history and art history and film history and biographies,” Hannah says. “I always wanted to roam around in the 20th century, just as a novelist or a filmmaker might choose to dwell in the past.”

In Upper Fifth, Hannah depicts actress Sarah Miles as she appeared in her film debut, with Laurence Olivier in Term of Trial.

When Hannah moved into his apartment, previously occupied by the Swedish Institute of Massage, the rent was $450 a month, but it had no kitchen. He installed a sink, along with a stove, and a refrigerator. “It did have a full bathroom, though, which was very useful,” he says.

Hannah’s art collection includes works by old friends, antique store finds, and “swaps” with other painters. Rooftop (Above R) is by the visual artist Joe Brainard, who died of AIDS in 1994.

The guest bedroom, painted billiards-room green.

The guest room is filled with juvenilia — wooden ships, and boys’ adventure books, and a bicycle—and Hannah tells visitors: “If you fall asleep in this room, you’ll have dreams of your childhood.”

The view from the master bedroom. Every morning Hannah wakes to the sight of two cherubs, above the door of the Beaux Arts Dorilton, holding a shield with a letter “D” on it. “It may be for Duncan,” Hannah says.



Small Sorrows (2005)


Winter is Blue (2011)


Lee Remick as Temple Drake (2010)


Thames Valley (2010)


The Second Mrs. DeWinter (2007)


Punting on the Cam (2010)


The Loom of Youth (2011)



Nova Sleeping (2005)


Love’s Young Dream (2005)



Prince & Princessa (2009)


The Mystic Twig (2009)



The Weekend Mystery (2008)


By the Sea (2010)


Dora (2010)


Gamine (2010)


Isabelle (2010)


Bugatti 1924, Cap-d’Antibes (2011)


Nova (2005)


John and Jane (2007)



En Route (2007)



Europe (1980)


Misadventure (2011)

Air Boat (1996)


Blowup (2004)


Little Angel (2005)


Mykonos (2009)


Upper Fifth (2009)


Monica’s green coat (2011)


Orpheus and Eurydice (2008)



Regarding Rosemary (2006)


The Ascent (2012)


Spy Story (2008)


The Green Hat (2003)


The Partisan (2013)


The Shipwreck Boys (2004)


The Shipwreck Boys in Yorkshire (2006)


The Shipwreck Boys on Regents Canal (2008)



Fireflies (2013)




p.s. Hey. ** James, Hi, James! Yeah, it was really nice meeting and talking with you in London. I’m glad you de-lurked. Do continue, if it feels right. Very interesting about that theater adaptation of Marguerite Duras’ ‘La Maladie de la Mort’. That’s my very favorite of her books. I’ll go hunt down what information I can find on it. Maybe, yeah, it’ll wind up back here. Thanks! Hope to see you again. Take care. ** Shane Christmass, Hi. Yep, he’s good, unique, singular. Ha ha, good luck not getting outed as a book writer, although it might be your chance to see if you have crossover success in your future, you never know. With Green, you kind of can’t go wrong, I think. But I’d say ‘Party Going’, ‘Concluding’, ‘Nothing’, or ‘Loving’ maybe? ** Jeff J, Yep, cool. Mm, I’m not sure if I have a total favorite Green. If I did, it could be ‘Party Going’. ‘Loving’ is pretty great. Right, 4:30 pm my time Sunday works for me, so let’s set that in stone, as it were, and talk/view then. Look forward to it! ** David Ehrenstein, Indeed. ** Steve Erickson, Yes, that seemed a safe bet. Curious about the Tsai Ming-liang and interested to read your thoughts, naturally. Everyone, Get Steve’s lowdown on Tsai Ming-liang’s new film YOUR FACE right here. ** Misanthrope, And you’re back! I would say prose-poetry is a fine description, yes. Sounds like a total blast, predictable London transportation issues notwithstanding. And great company. It’s good to hear that Rigby is up and about. And Marc and Wolf! I had the same wonderful catching up and laughing with them just the other week. And the mighty Mieze! I’d love to meet her one of these days. Philip Best, who I just missed meeting in Paris. All very cool. Napping during a CE show is so interesting a response that I totally approve. Yeah, great times, man, awesome. You sound refreshed or something. I’ve been pretty good. Dentistry on the bad side and amusement park road trip on the good side and lots of work in the middle. ** Jamie, Gee willikers, Jamie! Yes, all of his novels are excellent. Well, I haven’t read every single one, but at least most are top notch. I’m good. I hardly notice the tooth or, rather, gap now. Just something new to do with my tongue when I’m bored or anxious. The dentist did ask me to stop smoking for a few days, and I did not heed his advice, but I have compromised by brushing my teeth post-cigarette. Hooray for your joyful physical state and near-weeping. Uh, gosh, I feel like I would have tons of film suggestions. What’s your mood asking for? My Friday: working on the TV script and trying to finalise some proposal docs for the new film ‘cos there’s a grant deadline looming and, as I’ve said, everything has to be translated into French before we can submit. Not sure what else. Something unexpected should arise. You, yours? May it be impeccably performed, perfectly produced, and play at 45 rpm. Love like the fourth Byrds album minus ‘Mind Gardens’, Dennis. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. They don’t have fancy, futuristic, magical walking enhancing high tech devices at this late date in time?! A lot of people I know seem to be revisiting Dennis Potter lately. I should. Have a fine, fine day. ** Okay. Since I originally posted this Duncan Hannah exhibition/intro, he has published a terrific, wild, much liked memoir — ‘Twentieth-Century Boy’ — that I also recommend. See you tomorrow.


  1. Duncan Hannah copies Balthus but in a very odd context. Note the reproductions of shots from “Rosemary’s Baby
    “Red Desert” and “Deep End”

    Hannah himself was one of those exceptionally pretty boys Andy adored (see also Danny Williams)

  2. Due to your blog on Duncan a year ago, (and now) I have become a fan. I went to see his gallery show in Los Angeles and was knocked out by it, and also love his memoir. I’m hoping that there will be volume 2 in his memoir.

  3. Dennis! Sorry about the dentistry. If you remember, I had my bit of that earlier this year. I totally sympathize.

    Man, I kind of wish I knew Duncan Hannah back in the day, hahaha. But I do really like his stuff. It’s very good.

    I am refreshed, I think. Nothing like a good bit of travel and seeing my great friends in person, you know. ‘Twas a really good time all around.

    I was thinking about jet lag, which I almost never experience. I think a lot of it has to do with my fucked up sleeping patterns. I’m constantly running on weird fumes, getting little blocks of sleep here and there, with large blocks of being awake, so a little time change doesn’t really affect me much. I regularly am up for 18-24 hours at a clip and making it on through. Does that make sense?

    Plus, being able to doze a bit on a plane helps too.

    I’m off Monday too, so I’m looking at 4 days of getting back to and working on my novel. I’ll see what I can get done there.

  4. Hey Dennis, re: Dennis Potter, yeah, as you know I watched both PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and THE SINGING DETECTIVE last month and enjoyed both of them a great deal… I’m not even sure which one I liked more as both had a lot of things going for them… anyway now I’m going back to TWIN PEAKS, and have begun watching season 3: so far I’ve seen the first two episodes and am enjoying it.

    Started reading BOSUN yesterday: about halfway through and I think, of the 3 New Juche books I’ve read, that this one might be my favorite. Interestingly enough it’s less sexual than the others I’ve read and focused more on geography: I think one of his great talents is that he has a knack for describing urban environments in a remarkably evocative manner, in a way that kind of reminds me of J.G. Ballard or Huysmans (if that makes sense).

    I forgot to mention this, but a few weeks ago at the Thomas Ligotti forums on a “recent reading” thread the topic turned to Samuel R. Delany and most people were appreciative of him and his work but then someone brought up those NAMBLA comments he made years and years ago and then suddenly you had some people all but classifying him as a child molester who should be kept away from children. Funnily enough, the person who was most vehemently anti-Delany was one of those pro-antifa ultra-left wing Marxist types who, in the past, has made much a big deal about the need to support minority writers… yet apparently this fellow has no problem shitting all over one of the most venerated gay/black writers of our time… ah, human beings never fail to astound me.

  5. I spotted Duncan Hannah’s autobiography earlier. From the cover, I’d assumed another “cute boy back in the day” memoir, haha. If I saw one or two of his paintings, I probably wouldn’t even look at them twice. But I’m impressed with his single-mindedness of technique and subject.

    Thanks for the link to Steevee’s review of the new Tsai Ming-Liang. I have to say my enthusiasm has dimmed a bit in the last few years. But we’ll see if this one shows up around town soon…

    Sorry about being MIA, Dennis. I blame it at least partially on work stuff.

    The Gira solo gig was so so. It was just him singing and playing guitar, amplified just below my comfort level for volume. I think I really prefer him with a band, or at least with a studio behind him like in the Gira-Jarboe days. Going to the 2017 Queercore doc tonight; have you seen it?


  6. hello dennis

    “mortality begins in the mouth”

    il tap no more about your tooth, it seems fine from over here

    no, oddly enough they didn’t use barry manilow’s mandy in MANDY (9/10) but thankfully so cause me reckons had they done so it would have been in a head between knees ironic fashion but manilow’s mandy is a great song, i think his a cool guy and doesn’t give a tinkers curse about anyone and just does what he does

    dennis, today at work i was as useful as a horse with a wooden leg

    have good weekend and ooh, some of those hannah paintings above are really good, he’s above hopper and katz as those guys seem senile and demented in their myopic canvas, someone like brian calvin can twist it, karen klimick couldn’t twist her fucking ankle, oh don’t get me started..

    love you dennis, alex,x

  7. Hi!

    Uh, I just read Wednesday’s p.s. – how are you? I hope you don’t need painkillers anymore after your tooth removal?
    Yeah, I think it’s doable – I mean the private practice. It requires lots of work but it doesn’t seem impossible. Thank you!
    How’s the script coming along? How was your week?

    Sorry for the really short letter – hardly anything but a black hole filled with yawns on my part.
    I hope you’ll have a great, not entirely work-filled weekend! See you on Monday, Dennis!!

    (And thank you for this post! Not solely because of the second picture in the “The artist in his youth” section but otherwise too.)

  8. Hey Dangerous Den!
    I remember being rather taken by these paintings first time round. They do remind me of a certain era of novel cover, which would seem to make sense. And what a dapper chap. Thanks for the post!
    How are you? I am still feeling good and it’s a pretty joyous thing.
    My day was spent cleaning the building I work in from top to bottom, which I quite enjoy as it can be good thinking time. I’ve started another screenplay, working title ‘Horror Film’, but I think that might end up being the actual title too, so worked on that for a bit. I like it.
    How was yours? How did the TV and movie stuff pan out?
    Film-wise, I’m up for watching anything, but some suggestions for modern stuff would be great, if you have any. I tried to find The Magnificent Ambersons online today, to no avail.
    How’s your weekend looking? Mine is going to involve more cleaning, as I’m concerned the flat feels like a bachelor pad without Hannah’s presence. I just leave books and shit lying everywhere.
    I’m funny about the Byrds, but I’m def going to go listen to Mind Gardens to see why it’s bad.
    May your weekend be like a spree in the world’s best bakery.
    Xeroxed love,

  9. Amphibiouspeter

    October 5, 2018 at 10:19 pm

    Hey DC,

    Hm perhaps my own total prejudice that I was surprised to see such a figurative artist up today. Enjoyed it though!

    Do you get to do much halloweening in Paris? How does it go down there?

    For some reason I only just came accross zacs coral reef – not sure how I came across it. Anyway I’ve read about half and I really like it. Death spiral was so sad, and I loved the combination of your obsessions with haunted houses and funfairs in (I’m not going to write out the full title). I don’t want to say it’s my favourite because I love the other Zac pieces too, but it feels like some kind of progress in some way, or gaining more understanding of the form and exploring other avenues.

    Also did I ever tell you I read some of new juche? Mountainhead and some of the PDF pieces. It’s great, that whole thing of fetishising authenticity and then reflecting that back as really vulgar.

    Anyway, have a good one

  10. Ooh this memoir does look a treat. The paperback is out in a few months so I’ll keep an eye on it until then, but thank you for the heads up.

    Yeah the Dennis Potter binge I’m on is really satisfying. There’s still so much to get through too: Blue Remembered Hills, Brimstone and Treacle… it’s such a pleasure to come to an artist’s work late and there’s a whole archive available.

  11. Yesterday was a very stressful day writing-wise, for two reasons. I got one of them taken care of: there’s a film I’m reviewing which is distributed by HBO, and the only way I could see it is on their website, which simply didn’t work out on my laptop. I was able to get a messenger to send me a DVD today, and I will watch it and write a review Sunday afternoon. The other one, which we’ve discussed privately, seems defused, although I’m not sure what’s up long term.

    For some reason, I’ve been in an early ’80s synth-pop mood lately, possibly because of the amount of new music influenced by that period. I think reviewing John Grant’s LOVE IS MAGIC, whose better songs suggest Randy Newman making an album in that vein with entirely electronic instrumentation (except for bass guitar), was the final trigger. I decided to sample Thomas Dolby’s THE GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS and the first Flock of Seagulls album this week. The Dolby album is a lot more thoughtful, somber and cinematic-sounding than “She Blinded Me With Science” and “Hyperactive” would lead you to believe. I wish the Flock album had the relatively raw production of the Peel session they recorded before they had even made their first single, but it’s darker and weirder than their singles, close to the Cure’s mid ’80s album tracks in places: I’m sure they intended the irony of an electronics-laden song about machines distracting people as a new Holocaust begins.

    I’ll be seeing Jeanne Balibar introduce PAR EVENTE, ELECTRE, the 2013 film she co-directed, at Anthology’s Balibar retro tonight.

  12. Hey Dennis – We’re set in stone for Sunday and looking forward to it.

    This lovely Duncan Hannah day somehow makes perfect tonal sense after Henry Green. And I’m guessing that’s not a coincidence? His paintings — I get the Balthus influence, but somehow they made me think more immediately of some combo of Alex Katz, Edward Hopper, and Denton Welch. But maybe my mind is whirling in strange directions today.

    I need to check out his autobio. What’s his prose like?

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