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Photo of Philip Hanson

Philip Hanson

Born: 1943 (Chicago, IL, United States)

Before studying art, Philip Hanson completed his bachelor’s in humanities at the University of Chicago. He especially enjoyed “close reading,” the practice of parsing and interpreting interconnections among words. Hanson also spent one year in an architecture program at the University of Illinois at Chicago prior to enrolling in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he received a master’s degree in 1968.

Hanson began to receive acclaim for his artwork in 1968 and 1969 as a participant in the False Image exhibitions at the Hyde Park Art Center. Also exhibiting were Roger Brown, Eleanor Dube, and Christina Ramberg, and the exhibition title pointed to their shared fascination with theater and masks. Hanson also shared an interest in comic books and decorative abundance with his contemporaries, but where many of the Imagists employed a tone of sarcasm and slapstick humor, Hanson’s body of work is frequently described as romantic, sensual, and dreamlike.

Hanson’s career is as layered as his images. Though primarily a painter, early in his career he experimented with etchings, mezzotints, and aquatints, as well as hand-coloring techniques. The works for which he first received recognition featured ambiguous images of flowers, fans, jewels, and hands. In one of the artist’s early exhibitions at the Hyde Park Art Center, art critic Dennis Adrian identified Hanson’s works as expressing metaphorical elements that communicate “the inner states of love and desire.” Hanson additionally drew inspiration from surrealism, interior decoration, and opera. In keeping with his interest in costuming, he also experimented with cloth constructions and with fabric wall pieces that he folded, stitched, crimped, and seamed into origami-like configurations.

Following these works, Hanson turned his attention to a series of paintings that pictured women seated at vanity tables, facing away from the viewer and appearing to contemplate their unseen reflections. Typically dressed in delicate blouses and absorbed in a culture of beautification, Hanson’s mysterious figures seem oblivious to the viewer’s gaze. From his Vanity series, Hanson turned his attention to re-interpreting elaborate male costumes, emphasizing the gilded and glittering elements common in fitted garments of the fifteenth century. While many of Hanson’s images are populated with figures and objects, his fascination with patterning is also evident.

The artist’s recent works combine text—often poetry—with layers of patterns and images, thus returning to a foundational interest. In 2013, Hanson retired from 40 years of teaching at SAIC. He continues to live and work in Chicago.


Untitled (Woman Disrobing). Artist: Philip Hanson. Date: 1979. Medium: oil.

Untitled (Woman Disrobing)


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Untitled (from the Pleasure Park series). Artist: Philip Hanson. Date: c. 1968. Medium: oil on canvas.

Untitled (from the Pleasure Park series)

c. 1968

Learn more about Untitled (from the Pleasure Park series).