Influenced by the history of painting, especially Abstract Expressionism, Trenton Doyle Hancock transforms traditionally formal decisions—such as the use of color, language, and pattern—into opportunities to create new characters, develop sub-plots, and convey symbolic meaning. Hancock’s paintings often rework Biblical stories that the artist learned as a child from his family and local church community. Balancing moral dilemmas with wit and a musical sense of language and color, Hancock’s works create a painterly space of psychological dimension.
Winner of the 2013 Greenfield Prize for visual art, Trenton Doyle Hancock, talks with Tim Jaeger about his work and what this prestigious award means to him.
sVA: What is your fondest memory of growing up around the church?
TDH: My fondest memory of growing up around the church was probably the sense of community and also the music. I looked forward to going to church, often times it was three times a week. I saw it as an extension of I was at home doing creative things- drawing and painting, cartoons- things like that then I got to go to church and exercise yet another side of my creativity and I feel like I brought what I learned from that back home to the other stuff I was doing.
sVA: How important is knowing how to draw?
TDH: I guess I would say its more important for an artist to know how to see- and that is more important than knowing how to draw. Learning how to translate the things in your environment through your eye and into your hand and onto a surface is a way of ordering your intellect. Becoming better acquainted with your body and your mind, so I think there is a fair amount of importance.
sVA: What do you think about egos? Can you comment on your ego? Can you comment on your alter ego in your art?
TDH: I think the word ego automatically has a negative slant to it. In some ways it’s justified, it’s the thing you have to keep in check in order to maintain some kind of balance. I think in regards to artists you need to have an ego or you will get eaten up. I protect mine. I try not to let it get out of control and that is why I have a character called, Torpedo Boy, like the superhero. He represents how I can experiment with scenarios and get the better of somebody. Not only does he have a hyper ego that is out of control ego but he is also super strong, he’s fast and infused with all these powers that normal humans don’t have so he can wreak more havoc with others. He’s just sort of a powder cake.
sVA: How do you feel about having an audience? What do you want viewers from your exhibits to take with them after viewing your works?
TDH: I just want them to feel and see something that they have not seen before, and I can’t really dictate what they are going to see in the work because everyone brings their own baggage to the table. I just try to make a work that is layered enough that is always giving something. Even the most indoctrinated audiences will come in and see something special, and the test for that is that I don’t really think about the audience at all because I am the audience. If I can surprise myself then I feel like that goal has been met and the by product of that is that other people have been surprised, hopefully.
sVA: What is your favorite toy?
TDH: It is hard to say what is my favorite. It changes from week to week, but there are things that are constants. There are relics from my childhood that are always somewhere near me. There is weird balloon lamp with a clown on it that was mine when I was a kid that was my night light.
sVA: I remember seeing those when I was little.
TDH: Ya, that lamp and those colors, really, I think have stuck with me like the primary and secondary colors- there is just something about that. The plastic it is made out of I really respond to now—like these things are not good for the environment, but they are good for my soul. I don’t know where to draw the difference, or draw the line between something that does not degrade. Or maybe that is the line, or the similarity. Plastic does not degrade in the environment, but somehow in my aesthetics its constant.
sVA: You collect things. Are you a collector of objects or a big fan of recycling?
TDH: I collect things and I do recycle, but I am not that much of an environmentalist so that seems to be another whole question. I collect culture, so that usually consists of objects of all kinds, art, and documentation of all kinds. That could be from found signs on the side of the road, trash, and I also collect paintings. I like to trade paintings with friends or with artists I respect, and sometimes I outright buy them from auctions or thrift shops. I have this pretty intense archive of cultural output.
sVA: Do you have any comments about the Hermitage and receiving the Greenfield Prize?
TDH: I feel very honored to have received this award and looking back on the caliber of people that have received this award in the past I feel like I am in great company. You know there is a lot of pressure to perform in the face of knowing the other peoples track records, not necessarily with the Hermitage, but with what they have contributed to their own fields and I am like “Wow, I really have to come in here and do something out of the ordinary.” There is a lot of faith that they have in me and I feel an obligation to the institution, and the prize, and to the legacy. I feel like I am in a good place and I am happy that they trust me enough to have that next to my name.
As a part of the Greenfield Prize weekend, rising contemporary artist and recent recipient of the 2013 Greenfield Prize, Trenton Doyle Hancock, will be presented with his award at the annual award dinner. For a list of events visit http://hermitageartistretreat.org