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Art: Interview with John Hoyt

By Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson

Subscribers, the newest issue of Spectrum is in the mail and will soon be arriving in your mailboxes. If you don’t yet subscribe to the magazine, why not start with this issue? It features pieces with intriguing titles like, “Cybersex, Solipsism, and Paul’s Notion of the Body,” “Dreams Come True in (Black and) Blue Hawaii,” “Invitation to a Christian Witness for Peace in Iraq,” and “Pork.”
The cover of this issue showcases an artwork titled The Mirror by Canadian artist John Hoyt. This is Hoyt’s third Spectrum cover. Here’s what he says about The Mirror: “This image is based on a Photoshop sketch/oil painting from 2003. The Mirror, or so it seemed to me at the time, is actually a ‘reflection’ on the idea of law as a revealer of personal defects. My paintings often draw on various fifteenth-century sources for their imagery. When using these sources, however (which I alter to varying degrees using Adobe Photoshop), I am working as an artist, rather than an art historian. In The Mirror, for example, The Tower of Babel is from Pieter Bruegel.”
I had the chance to exchange emails with John Hoyt to further discuss his art: 
SF-JHow would you describe your artwork? Is there a common theme connecting your body of work as a whole?
JH: My first response to people who ask this question is that the key to understanding my work is what I think of as a “deep-seated religious neurosis.” That seems to catch their attention. I have found other artists who share this condition—most of them now dead of course. Hieronymus Bosch might be an example, but of course there’s a whole corpus of “outsider art” that seems reasonably neurotic as well.
SF-JWhy do you make art? For whom do you create?
JH: I paint to work through my neurosis. Plus it’s something to do—go into the studio, put on headphones, and drop out of reality, so to speak. So it’s for me, I guess. Unapologetically self-centered. But I like showing on occasion as well—I just don’t like the pressure of an imminent show. OK . . . to be honest I really enjoy having a good show in a nice gallery—just so they don’t happen too often. Once every couple of years is often enough. And I really like it as well when people express some understanding of the work . . . though that happens rarely enough.
SF-JI’m struck by the intricacy, vibrant colors, and surreal combination of elements in your artwork. What is your creation process like? What kind of physical space do you work in?
JH: The short answer to the first part is: I paint from photos, but I make the photos myself (i.e., I use Photoshop a lot.) It’s hard to talk about, but easy to show someone how it works. So the “sketching” (i.e., creating a detailed digital photo on which I can base a painting) takes weeks and weeks; I do it on a computer. Eventually a sketch feels “finished”—though I think of the digital photo as a “work” in itself of course. Then I spend at least an equal amount of time on the painting (a basement studio in my house)—just oil paint on canvas for the most part.
SF-JWhat are some of your influences, artistic and otherwise?
JH: Northern European art of the 1400s and early 1500s—I have looked and looked at the work, made trips to Belgium and Germany to see it in situ, etc. Then there are the German Expressionists and the Surrealists . . . and of course I already mentioned outsider art (I love the Museum of Visionary Art in Baltimore).
SF-JWould you care to comment on the state of art within Adventism, or Christianity? What are we doing right? Where is there room for improvement? In what direction should we be moving?
JH:  Adventist art—I think of this as an oxymoron. Protestantism never really knew quite what to do with art, and I think Adventists are solidly within that tradition. (Ironically, some of the art I like best was made in what came to be Protestant Europe . . . this interesting strain of art did not long survive the Reformation though, as far as I am concerned.)  So my advice is to compartmentalize—keep the art separate, let it live its life. If this leads to more neurosis . . . well, good painting is often the product of somewhat neurotic, dysfunctional spiritual environment, I find.
SF-JFor you, is there a struggle between being an artist and a spiritual person? How do you resolve the tension of being an artist creating edgy art and someone within the Adventist community?
JH: Between art and the “spiritual” side of my personality—no, there is no conflict; the two are really more or less one and the same. The struggle for me has been with religious ideology, if you see what I mean. Perhaps best not to pursue this thought too far . . . it leads me to bad places!  Very few people in the local “SDA” community ever see my work, for that matter. I had some bad experiences a number of years ago—I was invited to show work on campus a couple of times by administrators who did like my work, only to receive very negative responses from others who did not like it at all . . . eventually I realized there was no point.
SF-JSo, is the struggle external or internal? I think I hear you saying that it’s imposed on the artist by external forces—but I suppose it ultimately becomes an internal struggle, because it remains up to the artist to figure out how to compartmentalize art and the community. Does the artist essentially end up maintaining dual identities then—the artist within the community and the artist outside the community?
JH: Firstly, I do see a lot of my peers struggling with their identity with respect to the community” (i.e. the SDA “family.” ) So it’s really nothing unique to artists. (Actually I think I see the biggest struggle within the group I think of as SDA “scientists.”)  I have heard such people acknowledge their attachment to the “family”—but then go on to express their frustration at the inability of the family to adjust to current “reality” (i.e. specific scientific/theological issues –presumably all of us have some sense of these issues and how the conversation gets bogged down). So yes, such issues do need to be resolved on a personal level. But I think I have moved beyond this stage. It does help a lot to have non-SDA friends who also have spiritual inclinations but come from a radically different tradition (Native spirituality, for example) and can help me see things from a different perspective.
SF-JHave you explored spiritual themes in your artwork?
JH: I have always explored spiritual themes. For example—I find an entire alternate spiritual reality in the work of some outsider artists . . . I think of myself as exploring that sort of thing as well.

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