Pages from artist Duncan Hannah’s 20th Century Boy: Notebooks of the Seventies vividly capture a time when DIY artists and musicians roamed an affordable Manhattan and punk was on the soundtrack
I wonder if I have emphysema.
I wonder if my crabs are gone.
I wonder if Jenny really loves me. (Her Bard boyfriend is shooting heroin because he “misses her.”)
I wonder if I can paint well, write well.
I wonder how much I can see.
I wonder if I can ever give myself completely to another.
I wonder when the New York Dolls album is coming out.
I wonder what I’ll be like in five years.
I wonder if things are getting better or worse.
I wonder what Bryan Ferry is doing right now.
I wonder if I see myself at all objectively.
I wonder if this is corny.
I wonder if I should make myself another drink.
I wonder if I will flunk my astronomy test (I did).
–Duncan Hannah, journal entry from July 1973
At 65, Duncan Hannah is a distinguished painter; a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient with works in the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Hannah paints in a romantic style reminiscent of his heroes, Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer. It’s a style far from the surrounding waves and modes of 1970’s New York City modern art.
“The punk ethos was to ignore your limitations and just try to make something look cool.”
In fact, many fans of Please Kill Me have wandered up to Hannah at galleries exclaiming ‘You’re Duncan Hannah?!’ Behind the impeccable, anachronistic Bryan Ferry-esque threads, coiffed hair, and slightly mischievous smile, there is a wild, 1970’s New York City, coming-of-age story fueled by a bohemian course of art, rock ‘n’ roll, foreign film, literature and Pernod.
20th Century Boy: Notebooks of the Seventies is Hannah’s lucid and sometimes lurid tale — forging his path from art student to underground, to art world. Hailing from Minneapolis, maturing in the hallowed halls of Blake, Bard, and Parsons; Hannah came to New York City at a time when rent was cheap – art, ideals, and original style were placed at a higher value. As much as Hannah was a product of the scene, his David Cassidy-meets-Alain Delon good looks and insatiable curiosity caught the gaze of the demimonde – David & Angie Bowie, David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Danny Fields, Leee Black Childers, Steve Paul and more.
“Seventies pop, (glam to punk) certainly had an influence on my style, flamboyance. There was a lot of posturing going on. It was fun to dress up, to play act, to change your identity. But it was always cut with the influence of foreign cinema, which was equally seductive in the 70’s,” says Hannah.
In a day and age where everything tends to be accessed from our hand-sanitized fingertips via swipes and clicks, 20th Century Boy preserves the grimy grit under the fingernails — the Down-on-the-Street radar, sweat, swagger and stamina required in seeking sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll of the 1970’s. The narrative evolves from the starry-eyed whirlwind and voice of the most desired tot in the backroom to the tale of an artist in love with all forms of timeless art.
Form often follows content. The vivid and intimate narrative of 20th Century Boy was constructed from collage-filled, hand-scrawled, leather-bound artbook journals.
“I initially kept a journal because I didn’t like the feeling of time slipping through my fingers, and this was a way of arresting it. Writing was a way of self-mythologizing, so I could get a grasp on who I, and my friends, might be,” Hannah writes. “My Radiograph script is wedged in between pasted clippings of my current favorite rock stars, movie stars, nudes, candy wrappers, tickets, and general flotsam my magpie natured retrieved from the dustbin. I wasn’t a collagist but had an eye for paper ephemera.”
Hannah’s 1970’s artistic influences of David Hockney, R.B. Kitaj, Peter Blake and Larry Rivers are prevalent in the cut-and-paste, imaginative format of the journals. Hannah adds, “The scrappy visual look of punk certainly was a good breeding ground for my collages, which was how I supported myself after graduation (illustrating in magazines). The punk ethos was to ignore your limitations and just try to make something look cool.”
Far from the gorgeous 476-page, Scala typefaced, Knopf hardcover, Please Kill Me has obtained scans of the originals with commentary from Duncan Hannah:
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DUNCAN HANNAH LOOKS BACK AT THE 1970s
PETER HUJAR’S DAZZLING SECOND ACT
JIM CARROLL ON MEETING PATTI SMITH
ANGELA BOWIE: THE PKM INTERVIEW – PART 1
UNDER PRESSURE: GAIL ANN DORSEY ON PLAYING BASS FOR DAVID BOWIE