The draw of Trenton Doyle Hancock


Trenton Doyle Hancock’s upcoming show will be in the Studio Museum in Harlem from March 25 to June 28. In the current issue of FourTwoNine, Hancock explains how his art deals with issues both universal and urgent.

By R. A. Schuetz

Trenton Doyle Hancock is known for the encyclopedically detailed world he has created through his art over the past twenty years. His work has shown everywhere, from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth to the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh. In 2000 and 2002, he became one of the youngest artists to ever participate in the prestigious Whitney Biennial exhibitions. His medium encompasses everything from sketches to comic books to collaged-felt paintings. When I talked to him, he was designing a series of toys. In his work, a cast of recurring characters lives in a landscape imbued with the cluttered quality of a nightmare and governed by a dreamlike logic.

Hancock says he tells people who aren’t familiar with his art, “Imagine Lord of the Rings meets Alice in Wonderland.” His world, populated by the heroic Torpedo Boy, salt-of-the-earth Mounds, and evil goblinesque Vegans (inspired by actual vegans he knew in college), can seem whimsical. But underlying it is an almost scholarly sense history that emulates the mythology of the Marvel Universe—or the Greek gods.

To create a world this detailed, Hancock began when he was ten years old. Since then, he has created over 1,500 drawings. On whether his art reflects a current psyche—one shaped by video games, comic books, and technology—Hancock believes pop culture informs the texture but not the themes of his work. “I’m telling stories, and there are no new stories,” he says. War, terrorist attacks, sibling rivalry, and family arguments in which characters attempt to figure out who they are: these are some of the age-long stories he documents that are taking place in the real world.

However, the universal nature of these issues does not detract from their urgency. Part of Hancock’s most recent exhibit, which will be showing in the Studio Museum in Harlem from March 25 to June 28, is a thirty-page comic called Step and Screw. The recently completed project deals with the history of lynching in his hometown of Paris, Texas, which stretches back to the late nineteenth century and has scarred recent memory with the dragging death of Brandon McClelland in 2008. “It’s something that I had to confront in my own work, just so I could deal with it,” says Hancock. “When things become urgent, I deal with it in the work.”

Details for Goober’s Intrusion, at top: 2006, mixed media on paper, 6 1/4 x 10 in. Collection Jim and Paula Ohaus, Westfield, New Jersey. 

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