‘The Story Comes to Me as Visions’: Watch Artist Trenton Doyle Hancock Render His Superhero Alter Ego

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Trenton Doyle Hancock. Photo courtesy of MASS MoCA.

The artist Trenton Doyle Hancock is offering the world a glimpse into his active imagination with “Mind of the Mound:Critical Mass,” an immersive, kaleidoscopic exhibition opening on March 9 at MASS MoCA. Hancock grew up in a religious family and was enchanted by the stories and music of his church at a very young age. Eventually, they inspired him to invent a world of his own, inflected with spiritualism and religion as well as his meditations on power structures and race relations. He drew inspiration from comic books, children’s toys, the Bible, and popular culture.

Over the past three decades, Hancock has been building out this alternate world, populated by mythical creatures he calls Mounds—half-man, half-plant. They are the driving force behind the artist’s meticulously detailed drawings, prints, paintings, and sculptures.

In an interview back in 2003 as part of Art21’s “Stories” series, Hancock explained the genesis of Torpedo Boy, a superhero he invented at age 10 who is tasked with protecting the Mounds. The artist says Torpedo Boy is “kind of my alter ego… He can fly, he can lift things… but he’s terribly flawed.”

Still of Trenton Doyle Hancock’s “MoundVerse.” Courtesy of MASS MoCA/YouTube.

Sitting with her son in front of the camera, Hancock’s mother chimes in: “What he has seen over the years—some of the hurtful things, he wanted to get in there and do something about it… and that has become his Torpedo person.”

Over the course of Hancock’s career, Torpedo Boy has figured into most of his stories, cast as the epic hero who is grappling with very human emotions, foibles, and anxieties that get in the way of his daring attempts to protect the Mounds.

Hancock sees parallels of his visual storytelling in both comic books and biblical passages. He tells Art21 that he regards his work “as colorful blasts of energy or communication—these visions of hope… in a way, it’s like God’s promise with the rainbow after the flood.”


Watch the full segment, which originally appeared as part of the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” television series on PBS, below. “Trenton Doyle Hancock: Mind of the Mound: Critical Mass” is on view at MASS MoCA from March 9. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television is available now on PBS. Watch full episodes and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.

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