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“The NAACP challenges laws of the land, taking the unjust to task,” he said. “Similarly, art is never comfortable with the status quo.”
Hancock, a Paris native, was the keynote speaker at the NAACP’s annual Freedom Banquet at Love Civic Center on Saturday.
Hancock started out talking about the “artful tendencies” of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The organization was founded to provide a place for the “full gamut” of races, creeds and ideas; was designed to help create “healthy minds” that can be creative and think for themselves; and offers a means to examine the differences and similarities of people.
The evening also included Robert High presenting this year’s Heritage Award to Norm and Patsy Davis. Norm’s handcrafted wooden bowls have been a traditional gift to the banquet’s speakers for years.
“I enjoy making the bowls,” said the 89-year-old Norm. “As long as the good Lord gives me strength, I’m going to continue.”
High, the organization’s first vice president, served as master of ceremonies. Rev. Richard Jones gave the invocation. Eagle Scout Michael Hamilton led the pledge of allegiance. Eva Williams led the national anthem, as well as the closing “Lift Every Voice.”
In delivering the welcome, Treasurer Joan Mathis said she thought about reasons why people would spend their Saturday night attending the banquet. The one that stood out more than any other, she said, was that the attendees care about the community and the people around them.
“Whatever the reason, I would like to say it is an image, and image is everything,” she said. “Your choice to come tonight presents an image of unity in our community.”
President Judy Battle sang “His Eye is on the Sparrow” as the evening’s song of inspiration.
“And the church said, ‘Amen,’” High said when the song was done, to which the audience responded: “Amen.”
Alma Rollerson Twitty introduced her grandson as the keynote speaker.
“My grandson is full of surprises,” she said. “I’m going to present my grandson, who is a dedicated man of art. If God gives you a talent, don’t bury it. Go and use it.”
Hancock asked for a round of applause for his grandmother.
“She’s a powerful force in my life,” he said.
In keeping with his artistic theme, Hancock ran through a quick slideshow of famous “people of color” – those whose names incorporated color, such as Redd Foxx, Red Skelton, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Jack Black, Lewis Black, Karyn White, Maurice White, Reggie White, “Mean Joe” Green, Seth Green and Al Green.
From there, he went on to discuss what he called a cultural exchange between a largely white art world and other cultures. Much of the discussion centered on artists influenced by the geometric nature of cubism.
He started with Pablo Picasso, well known pioneering the cubism movement. Picasso was influenced by African masks and started experimenting with some of the shapes and distortions found in the masks, Hancock said. Cubism influenced black artist Jacob Lawrence, who created a style known as “dynamic cubism.”
Hancock’s “exchange” also included Gary Cantor, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Annie Albers, Stanley Whitney and Alma Woodsey Thomas. He also discussed his family’s influences on him, such as his grandmother’s quilt making.
“I remember her having me help her husk peas and watching her make quilts,” he said. “Those were some of my first art lessons right there.”
He also credited an aunt, Fannie Mae Rollerson, who drew farm animals, and his mother’s work as an interior decorator. When she would go to the store, he would look through the wallpaper sample books, fascinated with prints that kept the same pattern but changed in colors.
As a child, he said, his favorite times of the year were Christmas and the annual art fair. In fact, he said he probably enjoyed the art fair more. He participated in the event from elementary school on up.
“It gave me an opportunity to show what I had been working on all year, and see what other people had been working on,” he said. “People were excited about image making and expressing themselves. This was a community I wanted to be part of.”
Hancock said other influences have included movies like Jaws and The Wiz and even toys like the Garbage Pail Kids, which he said taught him “a picture can do so much more than be itself.” He has a toy museum in Houston, and keeps others on a shelf in his art studio.
“I look at the toys, and I look at the painting,” he said. “If the toys are more interesting than the painting, I’m doing something wrong.”
Hancock’s art has included several storylines and characters, such as Torpedoboy – an alter-ego super hero first created when he was in the fourth grade – and animal-plant hybrids known as Mounds and their enemy Vegans. The art has been seen all over the world and even led to an Austin Ballet production known as Cult of Color: Call to Color. He has also had large murals installed in the new Cowboys stadium and the Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston.
Some of his art has recently taken a turn back to his roots with a series of paintings that incorporate the pattern of his grandmother’s linoleum floor.
“I wanted to make a body of work that was an homage not only to my family, but to where I came from,” he said.
One of those pieces, entitled “DNA Footprint,” was auctioned off during the banquet for $3,000 to Chip Harper. A pen made by Norm Davis went for $400 to Paris Ford.
Rev. Carlos Edwards closed the banquet with a benediction, and Battle issued a call for new members.
“Every day, we’re making milestones to becoming a better place and better people,” she said. “But we can only become a better organization if you and you and you become a part of it.”