Photo by Alex Barber

With all the excitement over the Moody Center for the Arts, it could be easy to forget that many of Rice’s previous art installations were at the Rice Art Gallery in Sewall Hall. The space closed last May, but thanks to some extraordinary circumstances, the gallery is hosting one last exhibit that showcases a new take on Texas culture.

“Texas: 1997–2017” by Trenton Doyle Hancock is on display at the former gallery space. Hancock is an internationally renowned artist known for his elaborate symbolism that turns abstract, avant-garde pieces into representations of growing up in Texas. His exhibit was originally intended to be on display at Art League Houston’s gallery space, but following severe damage done in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Hancock’s work needed a new home. Luckily, the Moody Center for the Arts offered the use of the Rice Gallery space for Hancock while the Art League’s building was being repaired.

Photo by Alex Barber

As a Texan, born and raised, Hancock’s exhibition caught my attention in many ways. I grew up with an idea of Texas art that was filled with sweeping landscapes and natural scenes. Yet Hancock is not that kind of artist. His body of work is packed with fantastic surrealism as far as the eye can see, works that you need to step back and take a moment to even start thinking about. My favorite piece would have to be “Legends,” which makes use of color and shape to create something that is random and unique, yet also effortless and natural. Following each tree branch from color to color gave me an appreciation for the complexity of Hancock’s work.

I grew up with an idea of Texas art that was filled with sweeping landscapes and natural scenes. Yet Hancock is not that kind of artist. His body of work is packed with fantastic surrealism as far as the eye can see, works that you need to step back and take a moment to even start thinking about.

Yet none of the pieces were complex for the sake of complexity. There was a story being told with recurring characters and defined emotions. The crux of Hancock’s work are the colorful Mounds and the black-and-white Vegans, two recurring groups that are enemies in his world. He uses these characters to create a battle between colors that is visually enchanting. Works like the monochromatic “Vegans in the Sewer” and the demented yet intricate “Miracle Machine #1” put Hancock’s large and expansive imagination on full display.

Photo by Alex Barber

While “Texas” is as unusual a gallery show as you could see, the work is still quintessentially Texan. Hancock does an amazing job capturing the weird and wild experiences and aesthetics that many don’t immediately associate with Texas, invoking a lot of the independent elements of Texas art while telling a story that feels as real as life in modern Texas. Hancock’s work is as varied as the state itself, and makes you feel wistful, stressed, glum, and intrigued for a world that many of us call home, all in one visit. ‘Texas’ is a perfectly quirky bookend for the Rice Gallery.

To see Hancock’s fantastical work, visit the Sewall Hall gallery from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays until November 17, 2017. For more information on this exhibit, refer to this comprehensive Rice News article.

— Isaiah Rodriguez ’18

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