Two brothers push art boundaries

Two brothers and Baylor alumni, John and Charles Hancock, push the boundaries of both performance and visual art through unconventional pieces. Their artwork is shoing at The Croft Gallery in downtown Waco.
Courtesy Photo

By Liz Hitchcock

Taking visual and performance art to the next level is the goal for two brothers and Baylor alumni John and Charles Hancock.

Printmaking has always been the pair’s strong suit, but The Amazing Hancock Brothers – the name that the brothers have chosen for their collaborative efforts – cross boundaries with their art into gallery performances and throwing art parties.

Professor of art, Berry Klingman, said, “Most of their work is based on social an political issues. It is sharp-edged and in your face. A lot of it is pigs, coneheads, Shriners or mostly people that are involved in circus performance.”

Before graduating in 1983, the two brothers began producing art as a team, but it hasn’t been until fairly recently that they have shared creative license over each other’s work.

“It’s easy to work with [Charles]. Proximity makes it a little bit of a challenge,” John said. “We share imagery. I will say, ‘Here, Charles, do something with these prints.’ We’re just very passionate about fixing things. It’s more of repair work. Right now, we are working on Samurai and Kabuki imagery.”

The art collaboration they have created, The Amazing Hancock Brothers, is known for its focus on Día de los Muertos-themed prints.

“When we got out of Baylor, we showed with some friends and started Big Snuff, a collaboration in which we showed throughout the Southwest,” Charles said. “Me and John’s work is similar in subject matter and technique, but we really didn’t start collaborating until recently. We started out showing together. I’ll tell John to give me some prints and I’ll work on them and pass them back to him.”

Everything from hot rods, dancing skeletons and clowns to guns, monkeys and tanks. It’s all fair game for The Amazing Hancock Brothers.

“We like teenage boy type stuff, skulls and hot rods,” John said. “I guess you could call it low-brow art. We’re a lot less sophisticated than you think.”

Using mainly woodcuts, the brothers’ controversial subject matters are sketchy, morbid and often childish, John said.

“Their style comes from German expressionism, political cartoons of all time periods and poster art,” Klingman said, “Political and social satire is what they have been working with for a long time.”

Their works’ raw appeal is able to drawn some in but may also steer others clear. Aside from being known for their, the brothers are avid partiers and like to perform at their gallery openings.

“We have always had some sort of performative element in our work since the mid-‘80s,” John said. “There will be banjos, megaphones, girls in crazy hats, always all kinds of things at our shows.”

One of the brothers’ favorite shows was an Oklahoma City, Okla. opening. Showing with artists known as The Inger Brothers, The Amazing Hancock Brothers said the highlight of the night was when they used live ammunition fired from old guns and they shot at an effigy they had created.

“[Our past performances] all fall somewhere around poetic readings and ritualistic ceremonies, usually in some sort of costume or fez. We usually do something to make the opening spatial … The greatest one was in Oklahoma, with the Inger Brothers. We fired guns in the gallery at a sculpture with a voice recorder that would yell at you. The gallery had no windows, so there was a bank of gun smoke.”

John is a professor at University of Mary-Hardin Baylor, teaching printmaking, photography and drawing, while Charles is working in South Austin.

The two are currently showing at The Croft Gallery with The Mighty Mighty Seals Family Singers. The show is titled “Slop Bucket” because the two did not have a set organization for it, but they just “slopped” it together, John said .

“I don’t think there’s any real concept behind it,” John said. “I was just trying to figure out a good title, and it just seemed like a big slop bucket of art, not very elegant, but a pro po. It’s mostly art we have done over the last 6 months to a year, a lot of it is still pretty fresh. Katie [Croft] is really good at giving us a vehicle for our bad habits, I suppose.”

At the gallery opening, the brothers recited poetry and were involved in a musical performance act.

“Pat [Seals] was playing bass behind us, playing random noise and used his effects pedal,” Charles said. “Then me and John just alternated with a kind of our greatest hits of spoken word poetry.”

The “Slop Bucket” show will be up the entire month of April in downtown Waco. It is free of charge.