Bye and Bye, 2002
Trenton Doyle Hancock, American, born 1974
Acrylic, mixed media, and collaged canvas on canvas
84 × 132 in. (213.4 × 335.3 cm)
Museum purchase funded by the African American Art Advisory Association

Habits of Mind

  • OBSERVE DETAILS Observe details / time to think and reflect
  • COMMUNICATE Verbalize ideas, thoughts, feelings / ask provocative questions / ask for support
  • SYNTHESIZE Analyze and synthesize relationships and information / compare and contrast / understand the micro and macro implications

Bye and Bye (Science)

Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.

Curriculum Objectives

  • Classify different organisms using tools such as dichotomous keys
  • Compare and describe organisms’ adaptations

GRADE LEVEL

11

12

SUBJECT AREA

Science

HABITS OF MIND

Observe Details

Communicate

Synthesize

Connecting to the Work of Art

Trenton Doyle Hancock’s Bye and Bye features crowded imagery representing figures from the artist’s personal mythology and requires long looking to unpack fully. A black and white, monochromatic forest with leaf-barren trees is tightly populated with a menagerie of animals which surround a stark-white tree topped with a skull. Centered on the canvas, the tree’s smooth, white exterior and twisting limbs sit in contrast with the dark, rough bark of the surrounding forest. The words “bye and bye” are collaged around the canvas in various sizes. The animals are rendered in a variety of styles with some appearing more naturalistic while others appear more cartoonish; however, they all have red eyes. Upon close inspection, even the insects have been given either red eyes or jagged red auras. These are the only instances of color beyond black and white in the work. Hancock features both land and sea creatures. An octopus wraps one tentacle around the base of the central tree while the other tentacles reach throughout the bottom left quadrant, leading to other creatures in this strange grouping. The various predators and prey gathered all direct their focus toward the central tree that seems to support a human skull from its topmost branch.

Hancock’s rich imagery and draftsmanship create a visually compelling work. Every inch of the canvas has been worked and reworked. The animal and treelike figures depicted in the scene are mythological creatures that Hancock names the “mounds.” Hancock described the “mounds” and their origins:

 “Mounds are these half-human, half-plant mutants that came to life about fifty thousand years ago, when an ape-man masturbated in a field of flowers, and up sprang these creatures, and they’re called Mounds. Since then, many of them have died off for various reasons, but the main cause of death of Mounds is the premature death caused by creatures called Vegans who are evil creatures who can’t stand Mounds at all.”

As Hancock’s story about the mounds continues, the artist describes the narrative depicted in Bye and Bye. Here, we see these fantastical animal-plant figures grieving the death of Mound #1 seen in the center of the image depicted as an ashen white tree topped with a human skull. Speaking about the significance of Mound Number 1, Hancock recounted: 

And over the past few years, I have worked through the first major chapter about Mounds, and it’s called The Life and Death of Number 1. And Number 1, The Legend, is named that because he was the very first Mound to exist. And he’s the oldest Mound. And the Vegans hate him with all of their being, and so it was their mission to take him out. And so, the Vegans plotted, and they achieved their goal.”[1]

Hancock has used the mythologies he created to express universal feelings such as grief, love, and fear through the use of visual elements. Hancock frequently uses word-play in his images. Playing off the term “by and by,” meaning “before long or eventually,” the artist changes it to “bye and bye.” Paired with the artist’s description that this scene represents a funeral, the words echo the sentiment of hoping to see a lost loved one eventually. The overall monochromatic style of the work enhances this feeling of grief. The black and white is only interrupted by small moments of red. The red marking the Mounds’ eyes represents another important aspect in Hancock’s work, color. Describing the significance of color in his work, the artist specified:   

“I’ve always been drawn to color, but it always has to be necessary. Color has to have some sort of a meaning if I’m going to use it. It’s hard for me to just choose random color and use that as information because I start to feel disconnected from it. So, especially lately in the work, every color—every time it appears, it’s there for a specific reason. And if there’s no reason for color to be there, then the piece will probably just end up being black and white, which I’m perfectly okay with.”

With this in mind, the red in the Mounds’ eyes can be interpreted as grief through Hancock’s deft use of color. In the same year that Hancock completed Bye and Bye, he also created a series of prints entitled, Bye and Bye: Nine Sad Etchings that include depictions of individual Mounds with some accompanied by text commemorating their eulogies for the death of Mound Number 1. These images are also primarily black and white with the exception of the Mounds’s red eyes. The lion, seen on the right edge of the canvas in Bye and Bye, is also included in the suite of prints. The print includes text from the lions stating, “The presence of the great mound was felt by us all and shall be missed… Oh, by the way, I suggest you guys scatter, eulogizing makes me hungry.”[2] Seemingly conflicting emotions, such as humor, joy, and grief, often intermingle in Hancock’s work.  In 2012, Hancock revisited this idea with a “cheerful update” when he created Hi and Hi as a colorful mural at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston at the entrance of the pediatric imaging wing, filling a monumental wall approximately eight feet tall by thirty-nine feet wide.[3]  In contrast to the somber tone of the black and white scene of mourning in Bye and Bye, the mural for the children’s hospital embraces color. In Hi and Hi, horizontal bands red purple, blue, green, yellow, and orange create a rainbow backdrop for the scene with the words “hi and hi” repeatedly inscribed. Color and style transform Hancock’s mythological story and characters from Bye and Bye to create a scene of joy, humor, and discovery in Hi and Hi that welcomes families and visitors to the Houston hospital.

 

[1] “Storytelling- Characters and Color: and Interview with Trenton Doyle Hancock,” Art21, https://art21.org/read/trenton-doyle-hancock-storytelling-characters-and-colors/

[2] Trenton Doyle Hancock: Nine Sad Etchings, Museum of Modern Art, Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, produced in conjunction with the exhibition The Compulsive Line (Jan 25-April 27, 2006), https://assets.moma.org/documents/moma_catalogue_88_300330176.pdf 

Conversation Starters

Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking, and be careful about making assumptions.

Observations

  • Consider this mixed media work in its entirety. What do you notice first?
  • Notice the overall lack of color of this work. How would the painting change if the artist used naturalistic colors? What about vivid colors?
  • How has the artist used layering to create the composition? What about his use of lines of varying weights?

Interpretations

  • Consider the variety of animal species represented. Would they naturally convene together? Why or why not?
  • Why might the artist have depicted the Mounds in a variety of styles? Could it have something to do with their individual identity? How so?

Assessment

This work of art fosters thinking interdependently, as well as developing teamwork and collaboration. Additionally, the dense nature of the intricate work will facilitate close observation.

Subject Matter Connection

Observe the work of art using either the “thirty-second” or “one-minute look” method, where students observe the work of art for the allotted time, creating a mental inventory of details.

  • Optional: Go deeper by having students observe the work for one minute.

Divide the class into cooperative learning groups for this observational activity.

While observing the work of art, each student lists the organisms they can find within the work.

Have each group combine their lists into one. From this list, each group will then create a Dichotomous Key to be shared with the class.

Compare and contrast class keys and discuss how more than one key can be used to identify the same organisms.

Following discussion of the dichotomous keys, brainstorm the possible significance of the words “Bye and Bye”.

  • How does the artist use the placement of the words “Bye and Bye” and other symbols to communicate meaning?


The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.

The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.