Trenton Doyle Hancock has spent a majority of his career creating works based on a Darger-esque fantastical narrative of his mind--the world of the meat-loving Mounds and their evil counterparts, the Vegans. For his latest show, “ …And Then It All came Back to me” at James Cohan Gallery, the artist has departed from his ten-year narrative focus, and instead decided to delve into the long tradition of creating work based on personal memory. The subject of analyzing the self may induce eye rolls for some serious art collectors, but Hancock continues to make complicated constructions, while infusing childhood memories into his pieces without entering the realm of cliché.
Hancock’s colorful patterned pieces are each more than meets the eye--intricate collages of paint and canvas built up in extensive layers. The carefully cut conglomerations are a construct of several paintings, destroyed and snipped into pieces that are reassembled to create a chaotic depth. Hancock does not always stick to the picture plane with the resulting layers, pushing not only three dimensionality but also the tradition of the stretched canvas itself, using the patterns to cut away actual holes in the Mound-esque Plate of Shrimp.
Trenton Doyle Hancock, Hot Coals in Soul, 2010, Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 84 x 114 in. / 213.36 x 289.56 cm JCG5743; © The Artist / Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York/Shanghai.
Hancock links the notion of a childhood memory by reducing it to simply a pattern--specifically from the floor tiles of his grandparents’ house. The Den is almost a direct representation of the memory, clad in the blacks, yellows and oranges that were en vogue in the early 1970s. Each tile is imperfect, as our memories are, but their shape also holds weight, infused with the artists’ personality in each piece as it reappears again and again in layers throughout the exhibition. The curvaceous tile shape continues, and also appears with other recurring symbols--feet, bones, cats, eyes, pink flesh and black and white fur which evokes the Mounds narrative.
Without focusing on the Mounds, Hancock has created a “radical autobiography,” which effectively challenges the artist to not only confront his self-awareness of being an artist (and the possible absurdity of this lifestyle choice), but also to continue his oeuvre without the crutch of the narrative he has been leaning on for the greater part of ten years.
Trenton Doyle Hancock, Kept on Keeping On, 2012, Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 60 x 60 in./152.4 x 152.4 cm JCG6083; © The Artist / Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York/Shanghai.
When an artist switches gears, the first exhibition in that new direction runs the risk of coming out too soon. The new work can seem nonsensical or not ready to the outsider, especially one like Hancock who has been focusing on the same narrative for a decade. But Hancock’s journey into the personal does not feel like a misstep in the building of his body of work. His works are familiar and nostalgic, and poignantly compares memory to pattern. Much like the way a whiff of a familiar cologne brings on a memory of a high school boyfriend, or a song transports the mind to a summer trip from yesteryear, these patterns have the same symbolic effect, threading a snippet of Hancock’s memory to a visual language, but also inspiring the viewer to take solace and comfort in patterns from their own memories.
(Image on top: Trenton Doyle Hancock, Plate of Shrimp, 2012, Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 60 x 54 x 1 1/2 in. / 152.4 x 137.2 x 3.8 cm JCG6084; © The Artist / Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York/Shanghai.)