Over the past 20 years, Philip Hanson has explored the intersection of text and image in paintings that complexly layer dense, richly colored patterns with excerpts from poems by Emily Dickinson, William Blake, William Shakespeare, and other Romantic era poets. Long associated with the Chicago Imagists, Philip Hanson was featured in the seminal False Image exhibit at the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago in 1968, along with Christina Ramberg (1946–1995) and Roger Brown (1941–1997).
Words in Hanson’s paintings glint across unfurling banners and pass through layers of interlocking spaces characterized by dramatic shifts from light to dark. Utilizing the structure of the letters themselves and a bold palette of color, Hanson reinvents the language through its shape and therefore impacts its meaning as well. Hanson studied poetry at the University of Chicago when the New Criticism movement was the dominant influence in criticism. The movement was characterized by a close, line by line analysis of a poem and should be seen as a touchstone to Hanson’s continued interest in poetry and his willingness to diagrammatically break down and redeploy a poem across a network of illuminated supports that add to, rather than appropriate from, the poetry that inspires them.
Hanson’s work is also fueled by what curator Michael Rooks refers to as the “New Sincerity ethos of the past several decades: a paradigm in which the pursuit of grand universal truths, like the virtues of love, are conditions by an innate skepticism, with an ethos that searches for a truth that it never expects to find.” The excerpts that Hanson selects from poems such as Dickinson’s “I am nobody! Who are you?” and Blake’s “The Sick Rose” possess this sincerity and resignation that has resonated over generations, and which Hanson is able to externalize in his paintings.