Widely celebrated for his complex installations, paintings, and works on paper that have long illustrated an absurdist parable of good and evil between the imaginary arboreal Mounds and goblinlike Vegans, Trenton Doyle Hancock is emerging from behind his make-believe mythology to start dealing with his own roots as a black artist. The Houston-based Hancock, who grew up in an especially religious family, first dreamed of making comic books, but wound up combining a love of cartoon characters, religious allegories, playful language and fine art to create a hybrid form of art making, which has crudely embraced storytelling, painting and collage.
Although the show offers recent works that reference the mythology—along with several self-portraits that bridge the gap between the old and the new—the real point of departure comes with The Den, a large abstraction based on Hancock’s grandmother’s tile floor. Beautifully constructed with cut-up, painted canvas, and brown, yellow, and black paper over a pink ground, the evocative motif gets carried into other marvelous paintings in this eclectic exhibition. It becomes a fence over a hole in a wall opening up to a network of roots and arteries in Kept on Keeping On and forms a metaphoric mouth, face, and the core of a tree in the crazily collaged Plate of Shrimp.
Hancock reaches a crescendo, however, with The Former and the Ladder or Ascension and a Cinchin’, when he blends figurative and abstract elements, including Grandma’s tile floor, into an hallucinatory vision of his present and his past.—Paul Laster