Zadie Smith recently chronicled for The New Yorker a moment of self-realization, of responsive wokeness, for the English painter, poet & writer, Lynette Yiadom- Boakye. In response to an interview question, Yaidom-Boakye remarked, “How many times have I heard from someone saying, ‘You’re lucky. You were born with a subject.’ Well, isn’t everyone?”
Her interlocutor was offering a backhanded compliment on how blackness, as an identity, an aesthetic, a manifold culture — to say nothing of it as a resource for businesses and media — was in vogue. Lucky for her that she is a black artist, the interviewer seemed to suggest, who focuses on portraitures of black figures. It’s an interrogative notion that Yiadom- Boakye wasn’t, at this point in her career, affronted by, but it did affect a responsive maxim: everyone is born with a subject.
Tom Hancocks’ subject is visualization. A fellow artist, he’s an interior and spatial object and furniture design creator, mostly operating in a medium of 3D and animation renderings. In a typical Hancocks creation, there is a conspicuous sheen, a luster, and marbling that feels luxe, playful, and villa-esque, as if Diddy threw a banger in an environment constructed by David Lynch. Hypnotic and luring, they invite the viewer in regardless of a previously held aesthetic or design taste. For myself, I am taken back to the Missy Elliot and Busta Rhymes videos of my particular generation of MTV, especially “The Rain [Supa Dupa Fly].” By and large, he tells me one winter afternoon in his Lower East Side apartment, admirers of his work often express that they want to go to his spaces, immerse themselves in them.
“A diaphanous chair to lounge on while considering the world’s foibles. Mies van der Rohe meets 808s-era Kanye.”
Oddly enough, Hancocks’s works are devoid of people — each digital rendering emphasizes the existential disappointment one eventually feels in prolonged Instagram scrolling. I would actually like to escape to these places. Yet while it appears that there may be a party around the corner, just beyond our line of vision, many of Hancocks’ works evoke a sense of recluse and sexy, moody modernism: orbs that surely must be solid, heavy, and metal, while somehow simultaneously suggesting a dynamic of lightness, of a near-liquid state, of near movement. A diaphanous chair to lounge on while considering the world’s foibles. Mies van der Rohe meets 808s-era Kanye.
This sensibility carries over to emerging technologies as well. Hancocks recently made VR rooms — scans of realized domains that seem the inheritor of John Lautner’s L.A. abode, the Chemosphere. Inside each virtual room, everything is in itsright place; from the artfully draped throw pillow or light fixture to the perfectly-placed vase and (and it only makes intuitive sense once you see it) the oddities like a giant slab of volcanic stone.Eschewing art school both at home in his native Australia and here in New York, Hancocks nevertheless persisted. He works for an architecture firm and makes his art at his home studio, the results of which will inevitably make their way to Instagram for us, the fans in the digital balconies of social media, to appraise. Even knowing his process, Hancocks’ art still scans like a magic reprieve. His Instagram feed isn’t an update on his life or whims, where he’s been, or the latest incredulous thing he’s seen, but a place to showcase another step in his process.
“His ideal pursuit, beyond architecture though, is furniture design. Real objects d’art for real people to enjoy and shape their interior lives around.”
By that account, Hancocks is very busy. Nothing gaudy, he shows us what golden drapes should actually look like. Some posts make me wonder if Andre 3000 knew some place on earth where those “down to Mars girls” hang out. A personal favorite is of a place that evokes a kitchen or a bathroom. Pink tiles, clean, cold, and sharp, cover the area. A soft light illumes from somewhere off-screen. In the foreground rests a white stool of bent metal. And yet, it is the background which most entrances. A round sink fixture (of a slightly brighter hue of pink) that resembles a large fruit bowl affixed to the wall is running water out into a companion basin. The water is pink. I can’t overstate how curious and alchemical it looks. It’s a depiction of an everyday occurrence — water pouring from a sink — but, in Hancocks’s estimation, it is elevated into a rarified spatial design.
And at the right angle, the bowl appears upon the stool like a shrine deity. What then of his inspiration, his models or archetypes? Well, he admits to looking through photography collections, bound tomes of which are evident on a nearby bookshelf, neat but packed. His ideal pursuit, beyond architecture though, is furniture design. Real objects d’art for real people to enjoy and shape their interior lives around. Never underestimate the benefits transubstantiated in a good chair or table he seems to suggest. Mundane objects made artful.More concretely, however, he directs me towards a local collection of sculptures to visit once our chat concludes. Outside the nearby James Fuentes gallery, so high up on the wall as to be missed by the ever-
headlong New Yorker passersby, is a series of busts of local persons of interest by the Bronx sculptor John Ahearn. His rough- hewn and colorful life casts feature men and women; black, brown, and white faces. They evoke a world some New Yorkers doubt still exists but would go back to if they could. A place modern New York hasn’t scrubbed clean yet.
The peoples of that New York are Ahearn’s subject. For Hancocks, they move him to continue to work on his own subject, the inner workings of which will be mysterious to us, imbued as each of his visualizations are, with their own unique gravity.