Written by Zijun Shi, student in Parsons Fashion Publishing class
On the evening of March 25th at the Studio Museum in Harlem, art lovers in New York welcomed the opening of American artist Trenton Doyle Hancock’s first in-depth exhibition of his drawings, collages, and works on paper — Skin and Bones, 20 Years of Drawing.
Hancock is best known for his cartoon aesthetics—colorful, bright and out of this world. With a panoramic view on the artist’s past two decades of progress, this exhibition is a rare opportunity to intimately understand and examine Hancock’s work.
Lauren Haynes, Associate Curator of the Studio Museum, interviewed Hancock, who said that his admiration for super-humans led him to comic-inspired work. Finally, it was the crumbled world that extinguished his faith in superheroes but renewed his interest in comics, ideas which then bled into his paintings. For example, one can see and feel anger imbued in his paintings, trying to jump out from the frenetically freaky forms and shapes of the subjects.
With walls that served as canvases to extend the story to another dimension, expressive cartoon-styled paintings and drawings were intertwined with showroom space to construct a fairyland for viewers to escape. In some sections, the description boards were even replaced by scratchy hand-written narrations on the walls which conjured the whole space into a comic book narrative.
The opening attracted a large attendance of artists and art world characters from New York. Curators, dealers, and collectors from different museums and galleries gathered in the Studio Museum to congratulate Hancock during the opening. People enjoyed the vivacity brought by Hancock’s strange and outrageous images and characters he creates in his work.
It was not only the quirky characters in the cartoon imagery that radiated energy and imagination, show goers participated excitedly in tandem with the works. Monique, an attendee, was totally immersed in the airy atmosphere of the show. “I didn’t think an exhibition space could be so joyful,” she said exuberantly.
Aside from the playful appearance, his fantastical characters were thought provoking. Broad references ranging from literature and religion to music to film, were rendered into each piece. “He is using the art to tell the story of people, for example, sometimes he makes cultural commentary on minority groups. And there is a gorgeous manic energy living in the pieces which are pretty inspiring and made people curious about who the characters are and what the pictures were trying to say,” said Robin Cembalest, Editorial & Gallery Club Director at Creative YouTH*ink Ltd, a youth development collective committed to engaging urban youth through creative mediums.
Hancock is a storyteller who has successfully created his own vernacular, marrying emotions, images, commentary and ideas through what could be considered a juvenile medium—comic imagery—but all in all, his work is practiced, expressive and unique, making it worth the trip to Harlem to explore his pieces and decide for one’s self what it all means.