Trenton Doyle Hancock’s universe is unlike any you’ll ever see. Mounds, Vegans and the heroic Torpedo Boy are just a few of many characters to inhabit the cosmology of the Houston artist’s awe-inspiring 20-year retrospective at the Akron Art Museum.
Whether it’s Greek Gods or comic book heroes, “I think we’re always looking for evidence of superhuman beings that walk amongst us somehow,” says Hancock, whose exhibit “Skin and Bones, 20 Years of Drawing” runs through Jan. 5 at the Museum.
Words and images jump out of the canvas and inhabit the walls and floorboards in the gallery space, and Hancock admits that, after decades of creating, this is the first time some of his pieces have “met.”
His recurring themes and subjects are striking and often humorous, but they reveal uncomfortable truths about our own society. Other characters of his, however, may be misleading.
His vegan race, though inspired by real people and events, have no relation to real vegans. His vegans, for example, eat one block of tofu a year “and they don’t really care about animals. They just care about themselves.” Says Hancock: “The vegans I’ve created have almost no relation to real-life vegans. My version of veganism has evolved into something that’s completely absurd and unrealistic in a lot of ways.”
Some of his work could be perceived as having a rebellious nature due to Hancock’s upbringing as the step-son of a Southern preacher.
But now, he only seeks a better understanding of that mentality through storytelling. “I stopped seeing myself as rebelling against the religion that I grew up with and more about how can I come to a better understanding of those stories and how can they provide some sort of entry point into new stories?”
Although humor is a common thread throughout his work, Hancock is quick to point out that through comedy, we can uncover serious truth. “I tend to think that the comedian is one of the highest form of thinkers,” he adds. “They offer up a way to deal with all the crap that’s happening.”
In fact, comedians could be looked upon as philosophers, saying the things that many others are uncomfortable revealing, and helping us deal with these uncomfortable truths. Some of the pieces in his retrospective delve into racism, gender and body image, among other topics.
He’s also found a rare intersection between art and sports, by being commissioned by the Dallas Cowboys to paint a 41- by 108-foot mural at AT&T stadium. “It’s really a great place for artwork,” he says. “Then I started thinking about the Colosseum in Rome, so the idea of sports and art is not a new idea, but people don’t normally make that correlation between the two.”
“Trenton Doyle Hancock: Skin and Bones, 20 Years of Drawing” will appear at the Akron Art Museum through Jan. 5. For information, visit www.akronartmuseum.org.