Artist Duncan Hannah died at his home in Cornwall, Connecticut on Saturday June 11, lying on his favorite bed watching the 1962 film. The Parisiansa dark tale of bohemians, musicians, playboys and French women lost in love, everything he liked, not least the darkness.
This charming riverside cottage looked at its best. It was recently remodeled by his 30-year lover, Megan Wilson, a leading book designer; it was also rich in his collections of paintings, drawings, films, clothes, toy soldiers, boats and planes, period advertising signs, music and books.
Hannah’s life has been handled by generosity, towards all kinds of people and their equally varied creative work. A confessed fan of the old Hollywood way whose passions were as vast as it was deep, Hannah was an eternally curious lover of culture, both tall and short, and of people, both tall and short, and this great love of the world was much returned by we that people.
It would take a book to tell all the famous and infamous people that Hannah has known during her rich existence, not least during her daring youth of drugs and alcohol, and there really is just such a volume, Twentieth century boy, a selection of his diaries from the 1970s that is as addicting as his life at that time. It’s a scandalous turn of the page where our hero is about to die of whiskey and cocaine or stand in line with yet another downtown celebrity.
Hannah started early as a lifelong fan. Growing up in Minneapolis, he was suitably thrilled to meet drummer Gene Krupa and to receive a letter from J. Edgar Hoover, not to mention perhaps seeing Nabokov on vacation in Switzerland. He was given his first joint by Janis Joplin and spoke to John Berryman right on the bridge he would later jump from.
Expelled from Blake’s prestigious prep school, he was already a serious acid drinker as a teenager. By that time, he had already started playing drums in various local bands, most notably the Hurricane Boys.
It must be explained that Hannah was also extraordinarily, dazzlingly beautiful, a splendid youth, and always remained absurdly beautiful, with widely celebrated hair untouched by age. She also knew how to dress.
It’s no surprise then that he became a well-known local character studying art at Bard and only accelerated the legend, pedaling bumpy, when he moved to Manhattan in the early 1970s, where he became everyone’s dream lover.
A central paradox of Hannah was that she had all the beauty, elegance, fashion flare and gossip wit that defined the homosexual society of that place and time, while also being the busiest of heterosexuals. In fact, he was an obsessive fan of some actresses and not an average connoisseur of continental cult pornography.
The other paradox was that this impeccably dressed and tied English gentleman, who ranked on the best dressed lists written by everyone from Anna Wintour to Glenn O’Brien, was actually a key participant in the birth of the New York punk scene. He was a mainstay of CBGB and Max, played drums with Television, dated Nico at Chelsea, was offered coprofile pleasure by Lou Reed, or introduced young Talking Heads to his friend “Andy”.
Hannah’s stunning looks and charisma made him a natural actor. The cinema he loved so much he loved it right away and he made a memorable debut with Debbie Harry in the Amos Poe film. Unmade beds and its entourage, The stranger, attending the Deauville Film Festival as a true star, also appearing on stage with Gloria Swanson, Kirk Douglas and King Vidor. Hannah happily continued to play curious roles throughout her life, both for avant-garde director Andrew Horn and as a murder victim in Richard Kern’s short film for artist Lucy McKenzie. Oddly, Hannah played a perverted photographer Art for children teachers in 1995 and then professor of photography in Hellaware in 2013.
At twenty, Hannah had been to London to see Ziggy Stardust’s debut, accompanied by Roxy Music, and had even dated Kit Lambert at the Marquee, and rock ‘n’ roll remained a mainstay of her life, constantly busy going to see young and old artists, famous or just starting out, unstoppable.
In fact, since she became sober in 1984 (her commitment to AA came mainly because it saved his life, but also because the group offered the chance to hear the stories of her intriguing and sometimes famous companions), the life of Hannah was pleasantly fixated on a certain groove, a totally rewarding routine.
He loved his New York club, the Century Association, and he loved taking people there for lunch, not to mention proposing to join his friends. He loved going to the cinema and watching movies and new TV series at home, he loved listening to music and going to concerts, he loved reading and even writing, to the extent of his voluminous and edited diaries. But above all he loved to paint every day, almost invariably.
The vast array of characters and anecdotes in Hannah’s life story, her incredibly vast ‘back catalog’ of countercultural encounters and adventures, somehow interfered with a proper appreciation of her unique work as an artist.
Initially trained as an illustrator, he worked for Warhol’s Interview and designed t-shirts for another great friend, Anna Sui. Hannah’s knowledge of her art and practical techniques was unmatched.
As much an ardent Anglophile as a fanatic Francophile, he loved Sickert, Whistler, William Orpen, Vallotton, Vuillard and a host of lesser-known names, from Henry Lamb to Rodrigo Moynihan and Boutet de Monvel. Hannah’s paintings have often been compared to Hopper, but their subject was rarely American, her taste ran towards vintage cars, romantic European cityscapes complete with mysterious poised encounters and most of all beautiful women, cult movie stars. like Nova Pilbeam or Leonora Fani. Particularly striking is a recent series of fictional magazine covers, some with amusingly made-up titles, which are the subject of an upcoming volume from Dashwood Books.
Hannah’s generosity to the world was most evident in her interest in meeting and nurturing new people. At 69, she looked strangely younger than many she’d befriended, and not only thanks to her notoriously dark hair, but also to her eternal sparkle, the smile of it all. No one who had met him and had the good fortune to be treated with a dose of her magic would have forgotten him, considering him an eternal friend or brother long after.
This kindness, good manners and old world charm, might be considered a legacy of Minneapolis, but its democratic and demotic openness to everything and everyone was very Manhattan, especially the New York School of Poetry which he loved so much. He was a close friend of key attendees such as Rene Ricard, Joe Brainard, Larry Fagin and Tim Duglos, and a regular attendee of Poetry Project events, as well as an artist-illustrator of numerous textbooks.
How fitting, then, for it to be recently evoked by Gerard Malanga in a commemorative poem: “Duncan, / I suppose you have left a void wherever your presence has moved. / Just the thought of you not entirely imagined, / as if I didn’t meet you at the newsstand on the corner … “
As for me, heartbroken, I think of Walt Whitman, the great-grandfather of the New York School, teacher of love and generosity (those two words again), and his closing lines of “Song of Myself” : “I miss one place, look for another; / I stop somewhere waiting for you”.