About the Exhibit - Something American
Ever since seeing Trenton Doyle Hancock’s last exhibit in Los Angeles at Shulamit Nazarian Gallery, I couldn’t wait for his next. ‘Something American’ is Trenton’s 7th exhibit with James Cohan Gallery and is on view at both their New York locations (Tribeca and LES) until Oct 17th, 2020.
It’s important to understand that Trenton Doyle Hancock’s practice consists of him creating an entirely fictional world called the Moundverse, that’s loosely formed from his experience as a Black youth in rural Texas.
“For almost two decades, Trenton Doyle Hancock has been constructing his own fantastical narrative that continues to develop and inform his prolific artistic output.” (source)
“Part fictional, part autobiographical, Hancock’s work pulls from his own personal experience, art historical canon, comics and superheroes, pulp fiction, and myriad pop culture references, resulting in a complex amalgamation of characters and plots possessing universal concepts of light and dark, good and evil, and all the grey in between.” (source)
The exhibition is in two parts - the first is a series of new paintings, the second is the second chapter of Hancock’s graphic novel.
More relevant than ever, the paintings in this exhibit speak to themes of American identity, cultural expression as well as white supremacy.
Hancock uses this fantastic, mythical world he’s created as almost a coping mechanism, to be able to observe these themes within our society on his worn terms.
“Hancock brings these forces into his fantastical universe in order to grapple with them—this metaphorical space, while it invites parallels to our own, is entirely under the artist’s control.” (source)
The main character is this narrative is Torpedo Boy “an American football gladiator” as well as the Hancock’s self-portrait. Torpedo Boy can be seen having many interactions with a “buffoonish Klansmen”...one that’s often seen in Philip Guston’s works.
“Hooded Ku Klux Klan figures first appeared in Guston's works in the early 1930s in portable murals that depicted the widespread violence against African Americans. Prompted in part by the violence and civil strife of the late 1960s, Guston returned to the subject in City Limits and other paintings.” (source)
“The more you dissect the image, the more it becomes fraught with historic tension and with my own history as a painter. It keeps feeding itself as an image. The item that is exchanged between them changes the narrative each time.” - Trenton Doyle Hancock
The two largest works in the exhibit are flooded with color and texture thanks to Hancock’s use of a variety of materials such as paint, paper, fur, and even Gatorade bottle caps.
These paintings feature characters called ‘Bringbacks’ who are “humanoid creatures with alternating black and white fur bands, no mouth, and abnormally large eyes. They have no awareness of their own existence and are minions of a Mound named Junior, who eats the humans that these creatures bring to him. (source).
In the same room is a close-up painting of Torpedo Boy in his ‘armor’ - an American football uniform.
“As an adolescent in Texas, Hancock played football, an unequivocally and evocatively American obsession. Football is deeply enmeshed within notions of American masculinity, and has been presented within popular culture as a heroic narrative of masculine grit and character.” (source)
“Torpedo Boy is a vehicle to display and deal with artistic power and desire.” - Trenton Doyle Hancock
At James Cohan’s LES location, the exhibition continues with a focus on Chapter Two of an ongoing graphic novel Hancock has been creating.
“Designed as a traditional graphic novel, the intricate black and white illustrations provide a narrative master class in the characters and mythologies that have ruled Hancock’s work for the past twenty-five years. (source)
“The overarching narrative of his graphic novel places Hancock’s heroes and villains into a setting where he can speak about Americanism and talk back to the world at large.” (source)
Visiting the Gallery
To see a walkthrough of the exhibit, fast forward to 9:10 in the video below.
About the Artist - Trenton Doyle Hancock
Trenton Doyle Hancock was born in Oklahoma but grew up in Paris, Texas.
He earned his BFA from Texas A&M University, Commerce, and his MFA from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, Philadelphia.
He was one of the youngest artists to participate in the Whitney Biennial (in 2000 and 2002).
“Hancock is known for his visual work that focuses on the Mounds and the Vegans, two forces that are constantly dueling with one another and serve as a representation of the eternal battle between good and evil.” (source)
"Hopefully there's a range of what the Vegans are, and what Torpedo Boy is. You can choose to identify with that range or not. I came from a household where there were very strict ideas about what good and evil are. When I left home I realized that didn't really work for me, that life was a huge grey area. That became more interesting." (source)
Hancock lives and works in Houston, Texas.