MIND OF THE MOUND: CRITICAL MASS
Trenton Doyle Hancock grew up in Paris, Texas, to a family of evangelical Baptist ministers and missionaries. Supplementing his religious upbringing with comic books and Greek mythology, at the age of 10 he invented Torpedo Boy — an alter ego/superhero he still uses today. At this young age, Hancock already began to develop a singular mythology, which has evolved over the years. Ultimately birthing his own creation myth — as played out through paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, and installation — Hancock tells the story of the Mounds (gentle hybrid plant-like creatures) protected by Torpedo Boy, and their enemies, the Vegans (mutants who consume tofu and spill Mound blood every chance they get). These narratives explore good and evil, authority, race, moral relativism, and religion, all while creating a truly unique body of visual art referencing artists such as Philip Guston and Henry Darger, as well as making unapologetic nods to comic books, illustrations, animations, horror films, and toys.
In March 2019, Hancock will bring his richly detailed belief system, what he calls the “Mind of the Mound,” to MASS MoCA, fully integrating narrative, installation, and performance in his largest solo project to date — achieving “critical mass” of his vision. For Hancock, the Mound is more than just a character; it is a way of life. “Mounds are not only natural depositories for memories and other bits of discarded humanity, but they are a way for us to build a collective psycho-emotional hierarchy, as well as a way to describe an individual’s intuitive profile,” notes Hancock. In his work, the Mound is a site where the accumulation and classification of artworks exist alongside his toy collecting, comic books, superheroes, Garbage Pail Kids, and childhood drawings. Mounds proliferate through culture, functioning as a rhizomatic network — living structures connected via an underground root system — turning them into one being. The Mounds are the Tower of Babel, a beehive, and even the mashed potato tower from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), but are all interconnected. Hancock seamlessly blends culture and memory, not just for himself, but in order to release his mythology into the world where it gains yet additional layers and complexity.
Leaving no surface untouched, Hancock will invite visitors to step inside giant Mound sculptures, whose interiors will be kaleidoscopic installations: part toy fair, part museum, and part theme park, all run to wild proliferation. For example, one vignette will be designed to display Hancock’s recently created Halloween costumes, while another will function as a museum containing toys designed by the artist alongside a sampling from his own vast collection (an homage to artist Claes Oldenburg’s 1965-77 Mouse Museum, a Mickey Mouse-shaped structure full of the artist’s renditions of iconic pop culture objects). Also on view will be a large mound covered in handmade carpet, as well as an animatronic realization of a scene from the artist’s 2015 video What the Bringback Brought. These immersive environments will share space with wall drawings, paintings, and pages from the new 300-page graphic novel that Hancock is in the midst of creating.
Inspired by MASS MoCA’s programming in visual and performing arts, Hancock will work with the museum to activate the space, collaborating with musicians, singers, dancers, and preachers to bring his complex story to life. Performance has often served as a key element in Hancock’s work. In Devotion (2013) he dressed as a Mound and sang devotional songs after being fed Jell-O. And in 2013 he took things one step further, collaborating with Ballet Austin on a full-scale production called Cult of Color: Call to Color, which involved characters Sesom (Moses spelled backwards), a Vegan minister offering salvation; the benevolent Painter; and antagonistic Betto Watchow. Of his performances, Hancock states: “Perhaps the most important function was to give me faith in the characters I was painting. I gained belief in the transformative power of these characters by being the first to undergo transformation. With that belief as part of my muscle memory, I could then paint, draw, write, or sculpt without hesitation.”
With this ambitious new environment, Hancock comes full circle, merging his own backstory with his created mythology in a carnival-esque space where viewers can revel in spectacle, get lost in childlike wonder, and learn to believe — while simultaneously contemplating how we build and share faith, mythology, information, and community. In the end, Hancock reminds us that Mounds are museums; they are our basements, our living rooms, our memories, our minds, and, most importantly, our collective understanding.
About the Artist
Trenton Doyle Hancock (b. 1974 in Oklahoma City, OK) earned his BFA from Texas A&M University, Commerce, and his MFA from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, Philadelphia. He was featured in the 2000 and 2002 Whitney Biennial exhibitions. In 2014, his exhibition, Skin & Bones: 20 Years of Drawing at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, traveled to Akron Art Museum, OH; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; and Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. Solo exhibitions include: The Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah and Atlanta; the Weatherspoon art Museum, Greensboro, NC; the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, TX; The Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, FL; Olympic Sculpture Park at the Seattle Art Museum, WA; and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Hancock’s work is in the permanent collections of the Dallas Museum of Art, TX; the Menil Collection, Houston, TX; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; Brooklyn Museum, NY; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In 2017, Hancock was named Arts League Houston’s Texas artist of the year. He is represented by James Cohan Gallery, NY; Hales Gallery, London; and Shulamit Nazarian, LA. He lives and works in Houston, TX.