Eric L Hansen Biography: The Enduring Vision

I am a visual anthropologist, fully engaged with 21st century post-modern culture. I storyboard our disparate beliefs about love, family, home and relationships, what we say is real, and what not; what we value, and what not. While I draw and paint, the bulk of my work is lens-based. In my images, the past and the future conflate like spiral staircases collapsed into single moments layered with meaning. I draw from my own life and family experiences growing up as a second generation Euro-American in Queens, New York; later moving to Los Angeles; and spending between times in Paris, Beijing and the mountains of Western North Carolina. Today I live in the East Nashville loft I share with the poet Stellasue Lee and our two cats, Caylie and Tennyson. 

Reviewers have called my work:

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“An enduring vision that will enable us to see the world in a new way. “ —Philip Brookman, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC

“…Distinctive; a new voice, highly conceptual” —Rock Hushka, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma WA

“…At once fascinating and horrifying… I experience a jumble of emotions” —Jeanne Friscia, San Francisco Cameraworks.

“… Compelling, a kind of first-person social anthropology” —Alan Rapp, Chronicle Books.

My work has been featured in the Lucy award-winning journal Eyemazing, the French photograpy journal L’Oeil de la Photographie, and the Connecticut Review. My private collectors include the actress Drew Barrymore, producers Margaret Koval and Penny Adams, and film director James Contner. In 2010, I won three First’s and an Honorable Mention in the Pollux Awards international competition. This work was exhibited in Buenos Aires in January 2012. In 2012, I took  first, second and third in the Paris Grand Prix of Photography.

Museum directors who have curated my work include: Director of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art Robert Fitzpatrick, Director of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art Joann Moser, Director of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery Marc Pachter, Curator of Photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Malcolm Daniel, former Director of the Museum of Photographic Art Carol McCusker, and Director Emeritus of the Museum of Photographic Art Arthur Ollman.

I can’t remember a time when I was not drawing and painting. I was born in Staten Island, New York City, and later went to grammar school in Bayside, Queens. My mom had studied fine art at Harvard, and she sent me to art lessons at age three. My first toys were crayons, fat pencils, watercolors, tempera paints, and special papers. When I was 10, my grandmother gave me a camera. While I continued to draw and paint, I never stopped making lens-based art.

In junior high, I got a part time job after school assisting a professional photographer who specialized in environmental portraits. We would carry floodlights into people’s homes and I would help set them up. I ended up doing most of the darkroom printing. Meantime at 14, I encountered Picasso’s Guernica for the first time at the Museum of Modern Art. I was so moved by that experience I bought a print and framed it for my room where I could see it every morning and night. About that same time, my black and white photography began to win national high school photo contests. Under my senior yearbook picture, the high school staff typeset the words “photography wizard.”

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I earned a BFA degree from Newark College of the arts, where I double-majored in theater and creative writing. I continued my studies in studio art, but the theater group became my second family… two seasons in summer stock, stage lighting, set design, acting, three one-act plays produced.

For a long time, I made photographs, almost all black and white. But I would also draw in charcoal out of some frustration that I couldn’t do with film what Picasso had done in Guernica. With color, I experienced a similar frustration relative to the abstract expressionists. Still, I loved the processes of photography as much as painting, and perhaps a little inspired by David Hockney, I refused to give them up.

Fast forward to digital media: I immediately saw the possibility to go beyond the traditional single image into printmaking, collage and mixed media. I could conceive drawing, painting and photography in a single work. Since then, cameras have continued to be a part of my processes. But I also work with acrylic paints, charcoal drawing, and silk screen-printing. I continually scan, re-scan, re-photograph, and collage. Today most of my work is printed in limited editions of 11 or less with Lightjet or Ultra-Violet technology.

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By the end of the 1990s, I believed it was time to begin showing my work to a larger audience. In 2002 I submitted work to 20 juried group shows, expecting to be accepted into two or three. I was accepted into 16. Printing and framing and shipping occupied my full-time for the next three months. I finaled in Photolucida’s Critical Mass competition. I held my first solo exhibition at the George Billis Gallery in Los Angeles.

People have asked me what is my primary subject matter. I say that’s the wrong question. Better to ask, what is my primary process? This always begins with an image-moment, an “aha! Eureka!” I begin to explore it visually… What do I really see? What else do I see? What does it all mean? Where does it lead? Where has it been? Where will it go? What does it look like? By then, I have begun to see image upon image, and I begin to make them. This can involve painting, traditional printmaking, lens-based materials… Each one leads to the next, to more insight into the process, and more images. I persist until I have fully explored everything I see, until I have said all I have to say.

If you spend any time with me, you learn that I am driven. I wake up most mornings between 4 and 5 AM. The street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat was swept away, in the end, by wave upon wave of images bursting in his consciousness. He said they never stopped.  Coltrane said the music never stopped. For me, the images never stop.

So the question becomes which ones to make?

It’s the very bold images, when they persist, that wake me up before dawn to demand a presence, form, color, texture, and above all else, light! My primary subject matter? A dollhouse, the ruins of an 18th-century slave plantation, a herd of horses rescued from the slaughterhouse, the sun in mid sky over downtown Nashville city streets, a rural watershed, the Great Smokey Mountains? It’s not about the subject. I bind disparate things together with process.

But there is this one over-riding theme, central to my work. It is the passage of time, and how we do or do not experience passages. In Blood Rescue, I ask how we as a species have changed, or not, since the cave drawings at Lascaux and Chauvet 35,000 years ago. In Dollhouse, I create image-moments: Instants in time where we experience both the past, layered onto a present moment through the quality of memory; and also the future, layered on through the quality of imagination.1-Pocahontas1

While I do some abstracts, my style is generally representational. In that, I take extreme liberties. What you see is graphically engaging, and usually ambiguous. I love the kind of ambiguity that mirrors life. I am quite certain that the last people to live with absolutes were the cave painters at Chauvet and Lascaux 25,000 years ago. While I profoundly respect the transformative power of Post-Modernism in visual art, music, literature, architecture, music… all of the arts; I am committed to authenticity over cynicism, amateurism over professionalism, rebuilding over deconstruction, and a mindful heart over a heartless mind. I am a re-modernist.

When I see morning red skies, I remember my boyhood sailing mantra,  “Red in the morning, sailors take warning!” For me, making art is one piece in the mosaic of my life. There are many pieces. I hold a Master’s degree from the University of Chicago and a PhD from the University of Tennessee.  I am a polymath.

In Sherman Oaks, California, I had fallen asleep in front of the fireplace. Born in the year of the Tiger, I was dozing like a big cat. Nearby, three of my daughters and the poet Stellasue Lee were gathered around her desk, speaking quietly. The daughters had flown in from Rio de Janeiro, Knoxville, Tennessee and Winton-Salem, North Carolina to celebrate my show opening the next day at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “Dad is pretty cool,” Liz said.

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The next morning, I was the second one awake. Stellasue had made green tea. Now I sat on the back patio with her looking out into the garden. 100 feet up in the California Oak, two squirrels chattered over acorns. “Are you nervous about tonight?” she asked. “No,” I said, and I thought, Life is good. I am happy.

Today I live and work in East Nashville, Tennessee, where I share a loft with the poet Stellasue Lee and our two cats, Tennyson and Caylie.