Hoyt’s art is provocative, not pretty

With Gothic imagery of severed heads, bleeding torsos, mannequins and drug paraphernalia, John Hoyt’s art has been called “ugly.” But whoever said art is supposed to be pretty, asks the Lacombe-based artist, whose provocative pieces — rife with allusions to the Bible, Greek mythology and Alice in Wonderland — have been displayed in Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto galleries.

With Gothic imagery of severed heads, bleeding torsos, mannequins and drug paraphernalia, John Hoyt’s art has been called “ugly.”

But whoever said art is supposed to be pretty, asks the Lacombe-based artist, whose provocative pieces — rife with allusions to the Bible, Greek mythology and Alice in Wonderland — have been displayed in Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto galleries.

Hoyt doesn’t actually mind the ugly label. “OK, cool, that’s part of what I am trying to do,” he said.

His major influences are the German Expressionists — who aren’t known for creating decorative pictures — as well as austere medieval works, such as the Isenheim Altarpiece, displayed in a church in France.

Created in 1512-16 by German Mathias Grunewald, the painted altarpiece shows Christ’s crucifixion, and other heavy scenes of grief and suffering.

“Is it pretty? Definitely not,”concludes Hoyt. But it’s powerful, evocative, and makes viewers stop and look at it.

Hoyt seeks to give viewers a similar visual jolt with his digital artworks that are loaded with incongruous images that take time to analyze and deconstruct.

In his rather harrowing St. Sebastian II, a rock-star-like saint is shown in his traditional martyr pose — tied to a post and pierced with arrows. His eyes are covered, and his mouth is agape in a silent scream. At Sebastian’s bound feet an animated playing card from Alice in Wonderland, the Ace of Hearts, is painting the saint’s ankles red, while a cat casts his laser-beam eyes at the dying Sebastian. The backdrop is like a Currier and Ives Christmas card.

In Alice and the Great Caterpillar (Persephone and Hades in the Underworld), a china doll-like Alice with rabbit ears is shown reading while smoking a hookah pipe. Beside her, a giant slug on a mushroom holds what looks like a hash pipe. The caterpillar’s head resembles a bearded Jesus wearing a crown of thorns.

As Hoyt has been teaching art at Burman University, a Seventh-Day Adventist post-secondary institution, since the early 1980s, a natural question is how does the institution respond to artworks that include a Christ-like head mounted on a caterpillar or, in another image on his website (www.johnhoyt.ca), lying severed in a tray?

Hoyt admitted there have been discussions about his art, which is also influenced by Gustav Klimt, 1960s counterculture, Jefferson Airplane music, among other things. He feels it carries no political theme or any message other than what viewers personally ascribe to it.

Although he believes the university’s administration is generally OK with his desire to create arresting imagery that raises questions, he doesn’t push the situation.

“I don’t show my art within a 100-km radius of campus … I’ve learned to go under the radar.”

His paintings —which have evolved over the past half-decade into digital works printed on canvas — have been shown across Canada, however. Most recently, they were included in a 20th anniversary retrospective exhibit at the Propeller Centre for Visual Arts in Toronto in April.

He was also part of the Alberta Society of Artists exhibits in Edmonton and Calgary earlier this year, and has exhibited in Ottawa and Chicago.

Hoyt, who believes it’s OK to question some religious aspects, grew up in the 1960s in a conservative Seventh Day Adventist community in California. Having always doodled as a kid, he decided to switch some of his university courses over to art, and eventually obtained a masters degree in studio art from the University of California in 1972.

(Hoyt also has a masters in public health from Loma Linda University, and a PhD in post-secondary education from the University of Alberta.)

During most of the 1970s, Hoyt, his wife and their two children, lived in Africa, where the couple taught at a Rwandan college. The family moved to Canada in 1980, after Hoyt and his spouse landed teaching jobs at the former Canadian Union College, now Burman University. His wife, Carolyn Snipes-Hoyt, teaches French and German there.

Hoyt said he enjoys being a Canadian citizen. He appreciates this country’s more liberal political and social climate, as well as Lacombe’s quiet, friendly atmosphere.

Although most of his creative process unfolds digitally, “I think of myself as a painter,” said Hoyt, who still puts paintbrush to canvas every day as a teacher.

Since ideas for his personal projects usually start on the computer, he said, it’s hard not to continue developing them there.

But Hoyt is troubled by the fact digital art falls into a kind of grey area with gallery owners and the public. Art buyers still prefer old-school paintings rendered in acrylic or oils, because they don’t understand the artistic skill needed within the computerization process.

Hoyt still “paints” much of what he comes up with from his imagination on his computer screen, and uses Photoshop to make it fit his vision. If photography is considered a fine art, he said, then why not digital art?

Another problem is the unlimited number of copies that can be made from a digital image.

Hoyt is critical of conventional artists who make thousands of prints from photographs of their works, sign them, and pass them off as fine art prints.

He believes digital artists should hold themselves to making limited editions.

The trouble is, digital images can live online forever and could be found and printed off by others in the future, devaluing the limited-edition copies made by the artist.

Realistically, Hoyt doesn’t believe this will ever become a problem with his art. With limited public demand for his “weird” dark-themed works, he noted, with a chuckle, he’s never been asked to print more than a single copy of any image.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Justice Anne Molloy, from top left, John Rinaldi, Dr. Scott Woodside and accused Alek Minassian are shown during a murder trial conducted via Zoom videoconference in this courtroom sketch on December 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Verdict expected today in Toronto van attack trial

Alek Minassian admitted to planning and carrying out the attack on April 23, 2018

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, leaves her home in Vancouver to attend a court hearing, Monday, March 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Trump comments on trade negotiations with China take centre stage in Meng case

Meng was arrested at Vancouver’s airport more than two years ago

Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about phase two in B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization plan as Premier John Horgan and Minister Arian Dix look on during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, March 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
(Image from Facebook)
Central Alberta Soroptimists celebrate International Women’s Day

Soroptimist International of Central Alberta will host its first virtual International Women’s… Continue reading

Red Deer dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

opinion
Opinion: Crisis in long-term care must include data-driven change

More than 19,000 people in Canada have died from COVID-19 – more… Continue reading

The Dawe family home in the Michener Hill subdivision in Red Deer. This house was designed and built by Robert G. Dawe, a local engineer, in 1911 and has remained in the family ever since. (Contributed photo)
Michael Dawe: 65 years of Red Deer history

As a major milestone birthday looms, I thought that it might be… Continue reading

Dallas Stars' Mark Pysyk (13) and Tampa Bay Lightning's Ondrej Palat (18) compete for control of a loose puck in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Dallas, Tuesday, March 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Vasilevskiy 3rd straight shutout as Lightning top Stars 2-0

Vasilevskiy 3rd straight shutout as Lightning top Stars 2-0

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) grabs a loose puck as Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot (8) and Ottawa Senators left wing Brady Tkachuk (7) battle for the rebound during first-period NHL hockey action Tuesday, March 2, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Hab down Sens 3-1 to snap 5-game winless streak; Ducharme earns 1st NHL coaching win

Hab down Sens 3-1 to snap 5-game winless streak; Ducharme earns 1st NHL coaching win

FILE - In this Jan. 16, 2021, file photo, Creighton coach Greg McDermott watches the team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Butler in Indianapolis. McDermott apologized publicly Tuesday, March 2, for using insensitive language in his postgame locker room talk with players and staff following a loss over the weekend. In a tweet, McDermott said he used a “terribly inappropriate analogy in making a point about staying together as a team despite the loss.” (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)
Creighton coach McDermott apologizes for ‘plantation’ remark

Creighton coach McDermott apologizes for ‘plantation’ remark

WHL’s B.C. Division clubs cleared to play in Kamloops and Kelowna bubble environments

WHL’s B.C. Division clubs cleared to play in Kamloops and Kelowna bubble environments

World Rugby recommends postponing 2021 women’s World Cup to next year

World Rugby recommends postponing 2021 women’s World Cup to next year

Sean Burke speaks at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, July 25, 2017. The Montreal Canadiens have made another change to their coaching staff, appointing Burke to take over as the director of goaltending. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Montreal Canadiens appoint Sean Burke as director of goaltending

Montreal Canadiens appoint Sean Burke as director of goaltending

Most Read