Trenton Doyle Hancock:
St. Sesom and the Cult of Color

Dunn and Brown Contemporary

Max Kazemzadeh

Trenton Doyle Hancock’s latest body of work oozes from a densely constructed, playful yet richly layered cosmological narrative. With a visual strategy that borders on the grotesque, the artist challenges modernist aesthetics in the way he represents both characters and environments. The underlying goal seems to be the creation of a new visual cosmology—an otherworldly, biomorphic “comic-world.”

Each work in St. Sesom and the Cult of Color embodies a pseudo-outsider aesthetic reminiscent of transmogrified Megadeth album covers or paraphernalia sported at monster truck rallies. The further the artist strays from straight figuration, the more fantastic his makeshift environments, characters and invented cultures become. Most importantly, satire grows with this distance, given the juxtaposition of Hancock’s tale with the Biblical narrative of Moses.

Trenton Doyle Hancock, Good Vegan Progression (outside), 2005
Installation view; Approximately 10 x 11 x 14 feet
Mixed media on felt
Photo by Tom Jenkins

The first chapter of Hancock’s ongoing saga of referencing, abstracting and reforming Biblical tales appeared in From the Studio Floor, also at Dunn and Brown Contemporary in 2002. This new chapter, St. Sesom and the Cult of Color, focuses on the character St. Sesom. The exhibition encourages gallery-goers to follow Sesom—which is Moses backwards—through a new chapter in Hancock’s ongoing tome, this one centered on “the vegans,” their quest for “color” and, ultimately, their contribution to the artist’s own journey toward enlightenment.

Sesom is presented as a “freethinking vegan minister” surrounded by a culture that has lost the ability to see color from “many years of inbreeding.” As Moses before him, Sesom receives a revelation, albeit in a dream rather than from a burning bush. In this revelation, he is urged by a God-like character named Painter to “seek out, embrace and absorb color.” Just as Moses led his flock to Mount Sinai, it is now Sesom’s mission to lead his people away from their dire and desolate black and white world to one filled with color, energy and, ultimately, enlightenment.

Constructed cosmology is an artifice not unfamiliar in the contemporary art world. Matthew Barney, Matthew Ritchie, Mariko Mori and John Bock are but a few artists who develop and redevelop intricate personalized narratives—artificial contexts within which they can justify their gothic, peculiar, aggrandized and theatrical content. Hancock’s aim, in comparison, seems a bit more focused on trying to become self-aware. The work speaks directly to the literate; in cut, pasted and painted text, Hancock leads the viewer through a fairly grammatical narrative written in English, with pictures. His goal seems to be to lure us into his world, but once he has our attention, his implied intent folds back on itself in a looping, self-reflexive process of deconstruction. His tale is seemingly encoded with references, but in actuality Hancock is directing viewers off a cosmological cliff. The punch line? This entire cosmology was created simply to justify the reintroduction of color back into the artist’s own work. How postmodern.

Trenton Doyle Hancock, Miracle Machine #13 or Good Vegan, 2005
Mixed media on canvas
60 x 60 inches
Photo by Tom Jenkins

Hancock rejects notions of the art object, creating loose, almost vacuous paintings and constructions that serve as containers to fill with his hollow narrative, revealing the entire process to the viewer from conception to implementation. Nothing is hidden. Just as he parodies the Bible, he pokes fun at painting’s origins. In ancient times, cave walls were used (and possibly reused) as functional environments to enhance the art of storytelling. While cave paintings may have existed as essential assets in the sharing of thoughts and experiences, they also relate to the present-day notion of the commodified—and rarified—art object.

Hancock attempts to elude commodification; at the same time, I think he genuinely believes in painting. His work—paintings, murals and installations—are loosely but strategically constructed, colorful and compositionally balanced. While they are playfully rendered, they still employ a diversity of line and shape. They are aestheticized objects, even if their form rejects commodification.

Hancock is consistent and strategic in presenting a world that doubles as an elaborate inner dialog, reflecting on his own creative journey and ever-evolving, conceptual approach to painting. As a natural evolution from Hancock’s characteristic, limited palette of black, white and pink, the psychedelic use of color fills these distorted images, purposefully alluding to the drug-induced hallucinations of the Love Generation, rockers who themselves sought spiritual enlightenment. Striving to bring our soulless society salvation, Sesom is Trenton Doyle Hancock, the modern—or rather postmodern—Moses.

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