Curated by Trenton Doyle Hancock
Since childhood image making has been something of a magical act and at the same time a search to dig deeper into the world of the "imagination." Imagination is seldom referred to in academic circles - in other words it has often been called "the mind's eye" or maybe "free association."
Growing up in the 1940's of course there was no digital society or world. I drew on small sample pads of paper that Grandpa Caldwell would give me. He worked as a salesman who sold printing supplies to print shops.
Those small pads of paper were the substance which would allow me to escape from my surroundings and to fall into my own form of "Neverland" or down Alice's rabbit hole. The issue of "reality" had little interest to me. To be the dreamer and escaping person has long been my way of living
Since my retirement from the art department in 1998, my way of living has changed. For the past 40 years, I have thought of myself as a printmaker. Also I always drew. After retirement my images became even darker but in somehow a different way. There still exists "fantasy" but "fantasy" of a different kind. It represents a psychological reflection of me and was not only the emotional world, but also elements of the outside world.
The world has changed and the results affect all of us. We each have personal ways to deal with this and to cope with our society and surroundings.
Artists find their own ways; at least I think a lot of us are trying to do this.
by Trenton Doyle Hancock
When I first visited Tom's apartment in Lafayette, LA I was blown away by the nature of his living situation, which can best be described as a visionary environment. Tom has fused his art and life into one bramble, as the reader can see from the photographs of Tom's living and dining rooms. Every square inch of wall space in his home and studio is covered with art and inspirational ephemera. Every closet is filled to the ceiling with stacks of paintings, prints and drawings. There are flat files that are completely filled as well, but you can't access them because of prohibitive stacks of books and artworks. Needless to say, I was faced with the formidable task of selecting a modest but representative group from a body of thousands of artworks. I chose to focus on Tom's output from the past several years; this consists primarily of self-portraits and figurative work of a spiritual character.
Tom's personal symbology includes skulls, wings, masks, top hats and an assortment of loaded geometric shapes. These tropes can be traced to the source materials displayed alongside his artworks in his home and studio, the previously described horror vacui. This includes everything from dime-store trinkets to obscure Victorian collectibles; their sources range between gifts from friends and students to family heirlooms.
His fascination with Halloween partly accounts for his preoccupation with skulls and the macabre, ruminations on death, and ritualistic imagery. The old adage says, "The eyes are the windows to the soul," but in Tom's self portraits the eyes are almost always vacant. To compensate, there are other portals to meaning and soulfulness. His self portraits seem to incorporate the hollow stare of the skull or the jack-o-lantern. Consequently, these portraits suggest that a face is simply skin pulled over the skull like a mask.
In a number of Tom's works, processionals of silhouetted figures can be seen marching from one edge of the composition to the other. Oftentimes, these lines of mysterious figures are punctuated by either a large mask or skull (see pages 10 and 11). There is a contradictory logic that governs Tom's world. Even though his imagery implies a passage of souls from one plane to the next, the earthen grit of his hues encases his figures, binding them to mortal confinement. Tom's characters hardly acknowledge each other; instead they just go about their business in the shadows. On pages 14 and 18 this dynamic changes. These two very curious paintings present a more open flow of energies, atypical of Tom's usual claustrophobic settings. The characters seem to be engaging in some sort of dialogue or amicable exchange. Nevertheless, these pictures are firmly planted within the trajectory of Tom's other works, thanks to the severed rocking heads in the composition's corners.
The fact that Tom doesn't title his pieces bespeaks the speed with which he creates the works. Ultimately, Tom trusts that his images will emote sufficiently.
Tom Secrest was born in Columbus, OH, in 1942. He received his BFA and MFA from Ohio University in Athens, OH in 1966, and 1968 respectively. His work has been featured in a variety of exhibitions, including the One Man Show, University Art Museum, University of Louisiana, Lafayette, LA (1998); the First International Exhibition of the National Academy of Fantastic Art, Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE, (1986); and the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Prints Exhibition, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, (1981). Calvin Harlan wrote about Secrest's work in The New Orleans Art Review in June of 1986. His pieces are in a number of prestigious collections including The Print Collection of The New York Public Library, New York, NY; The Print Collection of Harlan and Weaver Intaglio, New York, NY; The Print Collection, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA; and The Collection of The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA. This exhibition at CUE Art Foundation marks Secrest's first solo show in New York.
Trenton Doyle Hancock was born in 1974 in Oklahoma City, OK. Raised in Paris, TX, Hancock earned his BFA from Texas A&M University, College Station, TX and his MFA from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA. Hancock's prints, drawings and collaged felt paintings work together to tell the story of the Mounds-a group of mythical creatures that are the tragic protagonists of the artist's unfolding narrative. Each new work by Hancock is a contribution to the saga of the Mounds, portraying the birth, life, death, afterlife and even dream states of these half-animal, half-plant creatures. Influenced by the history of painting, especially Abstract Expressionism, 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. Trenton Doyle Hancock was featured in the 2000 and 2002 Whitney Biennial exhibitions, becoming one of the youngest artists in history to participate in this prestigious survey. His work has been the subject of one-person exhibitions at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, TX; the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, TX and the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, FL. The recipient of numerous awards, Hancock lives and works in Houston, TX where he was a 2002 Core Artist-in-Residence at the Glassell School of Art of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX.