Before he was an international art star, hanging with the likes of Andy Warhol and painting his way onto the walls of the New York City's Metropolitan and other important museums, Duncan Hannah was a Twin Cities kid. In his memoir, "Twentieth-Century Boy: Notebooks of the Seventies," he wrote memorably of losing his virginity in Minnesota "in the back of a small speedboat docked in a marina on Lake Minnetonka."
From the Blake School in Minneapolis to Hopkins High School, Hannah headed to Bard College in upstate New York and then to Parsons School of Design in Manhattan. Soon he was rubbing shoulders with Patti Smith and David Bowie. With dashing good looks, a charming personality and impeccable style, he documented a memorable scene in his diaries, spending much of the '70s wasted before sobering up in 1980.
But it was Hannah's figurative paintings, which recall Edward Hopper and often feature starlets and European towns with an uncanny sensibility, that established his credentials as a serious artist.
"He was off on another track from my very traditional family, and I was the sister he didn't really want to follow," said Holly Lewis, his older sister. "I was straight [laced], getting good grades, went to an Ivy League school. I was happy with that, but Duncan wanted more."
Hannah died suddenly at age 69 at his home in Cornwall, Conn., on June 11. A private service will be held Sept. 25 in Minneapolis.
Born in Minneapolis in 1952, Hannah was eccentric from early on. His mother, Rosemary (Rathbun) Hannah, was an interior decorator, and his father, James, a Harvard-educated lawyer. He tried to push Hannah in that direction, but to no avail..
Jim Clifford, a classmate at Blake School, met Hannah during "the male metamorphoses years of 15, 16, 17," Clifford said. "It was the late '60s. Revolution was in the air, and experimentation was everywhere."
Clifford and Hannah played in a short-lived band, the Hurricane Boys, with Clifford on bass and Hannah on drums. Their jamming picked up again after college, when Hannah invited Clifford to New York to "this little place, CBGB." The Ramones, then unknown, played Monday nights.
It wasn't until Hannah quit playing drums that he became a successful artist, Clifford said.
"He painted these serene, pastoral, colored pictures of ships and motorcycles and young girls with glasses studying Voltaire," he said.
His work was exhibited in the United States and Europe and is in collections at the Metropolitan as well as the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2011, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship.
"Whenever you'd talk to him you'd learn something fabulous," Groveland Gallery director Sally Johnson said.
Artist and composer Steven Rydberg met Hannah at a Thanksgiving dinner party in Greenwich Village in 1984. They'd go gallery hopping on Friday nights, and Rydberg called Hannah a generous soul.
"If you knew Duncan well enough, you no doubt have many mixed tapes with hand-drawn 'covers,' exotic postcards and little gifties that will now become memories," Rydberg said.
Hannah kept his marriage to Megan Wilson secret for "a long time," Lewis said, "because he had known a lot of people who lived together and as soon as they got married everything fell apart, and he didn't want that to happen." Working in the New York art world as it was ravaged in the 1980s by AIDS, Lewis said, Hannah "stood by the grave of dozens ... he was always going to visit someone who died or was dying."
In Minneapolis, Hannah was represented by Jon Oulman Gallery but worked most recently with Groveland Gallery. Johnson said the gallery's inventory has one Hannah work left, Aurora," which portrays a man tending to his horses at a stable. "He didn't need to come back here and keep an arts relationship going with this community, but he did."