By Derrick White
First, ‘Happy New Year’ and may all of your dreams and wishes come true for you and yours this coming year.
“Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” – William S. Burroughs
Standing in a dimly lit, Kubrick-long hallway on the third floor of a tattered Ramada Inn in downtown Shreveport, Louisiana, after attending an evening reception for artist Wayne White, I knock on the door for room #308. Through the cracked space of the creaking, slowly opening door, appears a small, oxidized yet powerful handgun gripped in an ink stained hand. Suddenly, this feels like a scene from a B horror movie. Then the door widens and artist (and legend) John Hancock warmly greets my friend Paul and I saying, “Hey guys, come on in. Would you like a drink?” John has his signature thick, dark beard. He is dressed in a plaid shirt, wears a western belt buckle, custom made cowboy boots, and straw bowler hat. He is relaxing with some chewing tobacco, and a glass of whiskey. This night is about to get strange and entertaining. We go out to a few casinos, get some food, and talk long into the night about art and other strange topics until John eventually decides to go to sleep on the floor under the hotel room desk.
John Hancock is an expert printmaker, visual and performance artist, and a printmaking professor at Mary Hardin Baylor in Belton, Texas. John attended Baylor University where he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and received his Master of Fine Arts degree from Texas Tech University. Together, with his brother Charles – who also earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Baylor University and is also an expert printmaker, visual and performance artist, currently living in Austin – are the dynamic duo of the The Amazing Hancock Brothers creating, collaborating, performing, and printing images and mash-ups on anything and everything. Charles and John are two Texas outlaw (outsider artist) printmakers producing and exhibiting their unique, collaborative, and powerfully raw prints and collages for the delight and horror of viewers. Their work has a strong visual punch one can feel right behind the eyes. The Hancock Brothers conduct demonstrations, spoken word poetry events, printmaking workshops, participate in exhibitions nationally and internationally, and have work in numerous collections. They are both members of the Mid-America Print Council, Southern Graphics, founding members of the DPA print organization, regulars at Austin’s Annual Ink Slingaz Ball, and inspiring supporters of Drive By Press.
The Hancock Brother’s mash-ups are a sight to behold. Using screen-printing and acrylic paint they will lay out papers, fabrics or, in most cases, blocks of wood and, using a wide variety of screen-printed images, begin to create spontaneously on the surfaces. In a ferocity of commotion they collaborate on twenty to fifty artworks simultaneously. They randomly choose colors of ink and the placement of different images. Their library of Hancock representations is immense. The juxtapositions are endless – skulls next to eyepatch lady faces with fishnet stockings combined with vintage advertisements, zombie faces, snakes, sexy skull women in short skirts, monsters, devils, robots, panties, monkeys, wieners, etc. They use images of animal and human mutations, sombrero-wearing Mexican sugar skulls combined with different text and hidden meanings from words like ‘porno vampyre’ to the peculiar text RU486 (the abortion pill). The Hancock’s colors are bold and intense. Their images are horrific, subversive, and tantalizing. Their art is vexing, eye catching, and pleasurable. There is an uncertain enticing mischief to their images reminiscent of finding a dirty magazine down in a creek bed when you were eleven. Their process is disordered, expressive, explicit, and prolific. They make a lot of work. The end results of their work are unpredictable. “The dream is a spontaneous happening and therefore dangerous to a control system set up by the non-dreamers,” is a quote from William Burroughs (oftentimes a Hancock subject).
John and Charles are master woodcut printmakers with thousands of custom hand carved blocks of their signature style images. On one recent trip to East Texas to attend a workshop, Charles sat in the passenger seat of John’s pickup and fearlessly carved several blocks during the ride. He carved several astonishing blocks. The floor was littered with wood shaving ankle deep by the time they arrived. The Hancock’s art has an edgy aesthetic to those unfamiliar but do not let their expertise in printmaking get lost in their eccentric imagery. I’ve watched them carefully and clearly explain the process of printmaking to a room full of students and onlookers. They inform and entertain, and act as print missionaries with their message, ‘art and art making is for everyone.’ Don’t let any elitist, high art, self-proclaimed culture-maker tell you otherwise. Make art. Do you want to be a weirdo? Be a weirdo.
John and Charles celebrate the frivolous and the low brow, but with a visual whack upside your head, and behind the graffiti art aesthetic is a proficiency in process.
I leave you with another William Burroughs’ quote I find fitting to the Hancocks and their artistic philosophy, “You were not there for the beginning. You will not be there for the end. Your knowledge of what is going on can only be superficial and relative.”
Drive By Press is a touring woodblock printing company visiting college and university campuses nationwide, conducting print workshops, and touring with popular bands. They discuss on their website about the inspiration behind a new Hancock image t-shirt, “John Hancock is a founding father of 21st century printmaking in America. This shirt is for anyone who has ever had the pleasure of knowing or working with this amazing artist. We decided to pay tribute to this great man who has done so much for Drive By Press and American printmaking. Taylor designed and carved this one, and we are proud of it! We printed this wood block with Drive By Black ink onto a super soft slightly heather t-shirt.” Get some!
More information can be found at www.drivebypress.com/collections/mens-collection/products/john-hancock-tee
The Amazing Hancock Brothers visit us behind the East Texas Pine Curtain every couple of years or so. They had an exhibition and conducted an intense workshop at Tyler Junior College back in April, 2015. Now we eagerly await their next return. I can feel the thunder gathering even now.
Stay tuned. Stay informed. Stay weird.