The Life and Death of No. 1
Acrylic, ink, and felt on canvas
80 x 108 in. (203.2 x 274.32 cm)
Gift of the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation
“In my work,” Trenton Doyle Hancock said in 2009, “I feel I’m finally being able to bring together the worlds of comic book narratives and the history of abstraction.” This monumental painting is early evidence of that effort, with its flatly drawn limbs (we can’t just call them branches) grasping and wrestling like struggling superheroes, even as they warp and weft into an all-over woven pattern.
The work brings together many other elements of the idiosyncratic artist’s vision and technique. In form it fits a complex, ever-evolving story he has spun of half-humanoid, half-vegetal mound creatures—cysts of the earth and forest, repellent and fascinating. The one color is a pink that can only remind us of a popular antidiarrheal medication or moist, generally unseen, not-to-be-discussed-in-polite-company regions of bodily flesh.
The narrative behind Hancock’s surreal images can be traced, if with difficulty. In lectures, interviews, and essays he readily and casually describes the various characters who haunt his pictures, among them Loid, Painter, and Torpedo Boy. And he will patiently identify their sources: mom in her rational, authoritative guise; mom at her most creative; Hancock as he has seen himself from the age of ten. Then there are the intricate, ever-thickening layers of alternate history and dystopian nature that seem about to overwhelm him and all of us.
But none of this is essential to the experience of an art in which we recognize our own most fearsome dreams, our own experience of the struggles of id and ego, and the comic absurdity of it all.
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