At last! An update from Art:21 Season 2 artist Trenton Doyle Hancock’s Lower Realm has reached us in Chelsea. Hancock recently opened a new chapter in his ongoing saga of the war between a race of emaciated mutant Vegans and their fleshy Mound counterparts in Fear, his fourth solo show at James Cohan Gallery. But instead of painting scenes of all-out warfare, Hancock captures super-charged moments of tense waiting or vivid torture, suggesting that his epic narrative has reached a crossroads.
Hancock once explained that conflict compels him as an artist but in this show, confrontation itself is his topic. Instead of continuing to develop his elaborate storyline, he has arrived at an introspective moment in a tale so intricate that it no longer matters who’s winning or losing. A grid of paintings, each featuring a set of huge eyes peeping over a horizon line, suggests that their owners are either conducting surveillance or hiding out. The fear alluded to in the show’s title and written in black drops (blood? sweat?) on the walls isn’t anchored to a specific event. Pieces like Descension and Dissension (2008), which looks like a torture scene in which a bound Vegan (St Sesom?) is drained of mound meat yet at the same time enjoys a shower of life-giving color, are equally hard to pin down.
It’s been over a decade since Hancock began elaborating his storyline and detailing the complex identities of his host of characters. His hilarious The Trenton Doyle Handbook, Vol. 1 is a great resource for piecing together a who’s-who of the Vegan underworld. But given Hancock’s absorption in his self-created universe it’s not hard to imagine that his cosmology would grow too complex for anyone other than committed fans to keep up with. So the more abstract quality of this show not only opens his project to newcomers and recommits to the ambiguity that has made his work relevant to so many conversations: religion, race, politics and more.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to him about Fear in a public discussion organized by the New York Center for Art and Media Studies and hosted by James Cohan Gallery. Hancock provided insights on his themes and working methods, his performance art, his project Cult of Color with Ballet Austin last spring, and hinted of major changes to come in his work. The entire video interview is posted here, but check the video page on my website: for a shorter version and transcription coming soon.