“This is a story about an average prehistoric ape family,” begins “For a Floor of Flora,” Trenton Doyle Hancock’s prequel to his last appearance at Cohan in 2001. In the earlier show, his first solo outing in New York, Hancock mythologized the misadventures of furry, black-and-white-striped creatures called Mounds. Here, he invents a progenitor called Homerbuctas, who resembles, as his name implies, a certain feckless cartoon dad. “Ya’ see,” Hancock tells us in a colloquial text painted in sloppy curves along the wall, “Homerbuctas has a knack for turning impulsion into compulsion.” This unfortunate trait leads the ape to indulge an unholy affection for flower beds, siring hundreds of Mounds and ultimately estranging his wife and children.
Supporting this bizarre narrative, which owes as much to African American folklore and the Bible as it does to The Simpsons, are portraits of the Homerbuctas clan (legitimate and illegitimate), and intricate drawing-collages similar to Hancock’s work in the last two Whitney Biennials. The best of these weave banners of infantile phrases—”We Love You,” “Bye and Bye”—into enchanted forests of overwrought foliage. Adding to the surface interest are several walls covered with hand-screened wallpaper. A floral in the style of William Morris, interspersed with severed arms and a subtle background of capillaries, it lends a touch of Goya to The Secret Garden.
Hancock’s brand of storytelling has its own convoluted genealogy, counting William Blake, Henry Darger, and Philip Guston among its ancestors; the artist cites Cy Twombly as another important, if unlikely, influence. His madcap marriage of myth and image, though, gives rise to something more than illustration but still less than the greatest children’s books. Homerbuctas may be spending too much time in the garden, but for Hancock, a little weeding is in order.