When the glass doors of the Karl and Bertl Arnstein Galleries open, visitors are immediately enveloped in color—surrounded by yellow and pink walls. The stark contrast of Trenton Doyle Hancock’s black and white drawings against these saccharine, bubble gum-colored backdrops makes them pop. Some drawings are encircled by outlines of the artist’s hand scrawled text that changes in color and size as visitors follow the trail of Trenton Doyle Hancock: Skin and Bones, 20 Years of Drawing.
On view at the Akron Art Museum through January 4, 2015, Skin and Bones, 20 Years of Drawing paints an evolving portrait of Trenton Doyle Hancock’s work, beginning with superhero drawings from his childhood to college-era pieces on pizza boxes and paper to his present day works that seem to blossom from beyond the page.
The majority of the exhibition is filled with work illustrating different stories that focus on the “Mounds”—an imaginary race of sentient part-plant, part-ape creatures that arose as accidental offspring of their father. The complex story of the Mounds and their nemesis, the “Vegans,” touches on the foundations and pitfalls of humanity, including jealousy, strife, acceptance and alienation.
Equal parts pop culture and ancient mythology, Trenton Doyle Hancock merges the structures and characteristics of his early influences such as religion and comics into a range of narratives that act as a keystone for the exhibition. Hancock’s interest in “origin stories” is evidenced in his numerous self-portraits. Elsewhere, in works such as The Studio Floor (2002) and Encounter with Prostitute (2002), tangential tales about Hancock’s alter ego “Torpedo Boy” confront overlooked truths about our own very real world.
The most thought-provoking part of this exhibition, however, is not the story Hancock creates, nor the intricacy of the drawings over which he labors, but rather his working method itself. Hancock’s combined use of written language and drawn images pay homage to cartoons and comics while also asking the audience to consider the purpose and power of narratives in our daily lives. Whether it is through sitcom television, classic literature or by following our favorite sports team, narrative storytelling comprises an enormous portion of our sensory stimulation. Simultaneously parodying existence while searching for validation and meaning, this exhibition reveals how Hancock taps into our current cultural Zeitgeist to create something that is both personal and ubiquitous.
Karl Anderson is an artist and writer based in Cleveland, OH. View more articles by Karl Anderson.