Visual Art

The Return of the Mounds!

New exhibition is first to examine Houston artist Trenton Doyle Hancock's drawings.

By Michael Hardy April 25, 2014

Trenton Doyle Hancock, "Cave Scape #3," 2010. Ink on paper. 6 1/4 x 10 inches.

Trenton Doyle Hancock: Skin & Bones, 20 Years of Drawing
April 26–Aug 3 
Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston
5216 Montrose Blvd.

When Trenton Doyle Hancock was 10 years old, he began writing and illustrating stories about an invented superhero named Torpedo Boy who wore a white costume and could fly and lift heavy objects. Some of those illustrated stories will be in the Contemporary Arts Museum’s new exhibition of Hancock’s drawings, which opens on Saturday. When I recently asked Hancock whether he ever imagined that his childhood doodles would one day be in a museum, he seemed surprised by the question. “Yeah, I was convinced,” he said. “Even back then.” 

Hancock, who was raised in Paris, Texas and now lives in Houston, has achieved international recognition for his highly idiosyncratic paintings, many of which tell the story of the “Mounds,” half-animal, half-plant creatures that populate a mythical world of Hancock’s own creation. The new CAMH exhibition, curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver, is the first devoted to the artist’s drawings, ranging from his juvenilia to his most recent work, and including comics he drew for the Texas A&M–Commerce college newspaper.

Hancock knew he wanted to be an artist since he was a kid, and, to that end, saved everything he created, amassing a personal archive that now occupies the better part of two houses and a studio.

“I’ve always had this great interest in self-reflection, and I’ve always run my studio that way,” he told me. “I’m always looking back at past material and responding to it. I suppose the young version of me was already on it—I was saving all my drawings in folders. I was very excited about the idea of being an artist and archiving my own history. And in a time like this [the new exhibition], it pays off, because I can just go into my files and pull things out. We were able to use a lot of things that people have never seen for the show.” 

Trenton Doyle Hancock, "Faster," 2010. Acrylic, mixed media on paper. 13 1/2 x 16 inches. Zang Collection, London.

Although Hancock is best known for his paintings, he has made drawings throughout his career, both as sketches for paintings and as finished works. He’s constantly working in his sketchbook; for him, “drawing is note taking.” The new exhibition features drawings of Hancock’s famous Mounds occupying Hieronymous Bosch–style landscapes, but also comical self-portraits like “Faster,” which depicts a grotesquely exaggerated version of the artist on a treadmill whose screen displays only the word “Fat,” and word-paintings like “Wow That’s Mean,” which features that repeated phrase spiraling around the picture in a black-and-white whirlpool of letters.

Because the prolific artist’s body of work is constantly expanding, and because he never throws anything away, there’s just one limit to the size of his archive.

“The only problem,” Hancock admitted, “is the issue of space.” 

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