Purple, moonlit skies, mysterious castles, and red-eyed bats are just some of the imagery that makes up the dramatic paintings of Timothy Hoyt. The theatrical lighting in his compositions create a suspenseful and gothic atmosphere that has become a trademark of his unforgettable work. Like a fun house of horror or old episodes of R.L Stine’s beloved ‘Goosebumps’, Hoyt’s paintings are both dark and irresistibly fun, with a heightened sense of excitement and action within the narrative of the work. This narrative forms an epic adventure into razor sharp waters and shadowy hallways lit by candlelight. His bold shapes and colors form a graphic style, inspired by the comic and skateboard imagery of his youth.
Currently based in New York City, Hoyt earned an MFA at The American University in D.C. a BFA from Pennsylvania State University, and has also studied at the Columbia University Advanced Painting Intensive. He has exhibited his work extensively through NYC as well as the U.S. In this interview, Hoyt shares with us his early aesthetic influences, his fascination with certain color palettes, and how his formative experience in grad school shaped his future as a painter.
AMM: How did you start your career as an artist? What was the first gallery or exhibition that showcased your work?
TH: Immediately after graduate school I attended a residency in Chautauqua, curated an apartment show, and was in a couple online exhibitions, but I think my first legitimate show was a group show at 0-0 Gallery in LA. It was their inaugural show, featuring a bunch of amazing painters who I didn’t know at the time, but I quickly grew to admire. The gallery owners contacted me through Instagram and asked if I’d like to participate. I was ecstatic.
AMM: Your work has a heightened sense of drama and theatricality to it, with imagery that seems allegorical. Would you say your body of work has a narrative to it?
TH: A somewhat specific narrative has emerged over the past year or so. Some paintings are more tethered to it than others, but they are all meant to exist within the same world. My work started out being about the general anxiety of being an artist, entering adulthood, etc. A shift happened around the last presidential election when it felt (and often still feels) like we were all hurtling toward our demise in a very imminent and quantifiable way. The work became very dark and shadowy with dramatic lighting, lots of night paintings with moons, fire and smoke. The narrative has since shifted again to describe a world post-disaster. The lands are flooded so all the survivors live in isolated towers above the waves and they all eat fish by candlelight. It all sort of came together unintended. I would try out certain elements in paintings and if I felt like they worked, they’d make it into the next painting. After a while, these repeating motifs started to form a story. It’s been fun to watch it all come together.
AMM: Let’s talk a bit about your process as a painter. How much of your compositions are planned and how much does the idea change during the process?
TH: All the paintings start with a loose idea or a general composition. I might quickly sketch something on paper beforehand, but I mostly enjoy starting to paint immediately so that the idea remains fresh and exciting. A lot of editing happens on the canvas in both composition and color. Those initial layers often end up poking through in the work’s final state, which creates interesting moments. Sometimes the painting comes together pretty smoothly and the original idea stays intact. Other times the idea doesn’t work and I have to chuck it and try to build something out of whatever is on the canvas. I think that’s an important part of being a painter. It’s such a flexible medium. Not allowing things to be precious allows me to take advantage of the medium’s malleability and creates a lot of sporadic and exciting occurrences.
AMM: The figures in your work are very stylized and uniquely portrayed, with expressive faces and intense lighting. Can you speak a bit to this aspect of your work?
TH: I grew up reading comic books, playing video games, looking at heavy metal and skateboarding imagery, which all contained an exaggerated and “over the top” quality. At the time the figures you describe were starting to emerge in my work, I was at a sort of crossroads. I was really digging around and figuring out what I was drawn to in art and imagery. I ended up reverting to a lot of those early interests. The world around the figures had already been established as this whimsical, funky, spooky place so the figures really had to loosen up in order to fit in.
AMM: Tell us about your experience studying painting at university. Was this a formative experience for you as an artist? How did this experience impact your practice?
TH: It wasn’t until half way through college that I began painting at all, but I had great professors and was motivated to continue after graduating. By the time I went to graduate school, I had developed some chops but lacked direction. It was also the first time in my life I was introduced to any kind of philosophy or theory. In graduate school I ended up sort of stripping away everything I thought I knew and starting from scratch, which ended up being a very positive thing.
AMM: What aspect of your life has inspired your artwork the most?
TH: It’s hard to pinpoint one thing. Recently, political anxiety, global warming, childhood interests, and living in New York have all had an effect on my work. However, something that has been consistent since I started painting, which I often don’t think about because it seems second nature, is my attraction to a really specific color palette. Growing up, once a year, my parents, my sisters, and I would drive down to Captiva, Florida, a small island off of the Gulf Coast, and spend a week hanging out with each other in this really lush, tropical environment. We all loved it so much that my mother painted all of the rooms in our New Jersey home different “Florida” colors: rich yellows, lush greens and turquoises, lots of pink and magenta. It wasn’t until going back to Captiva years later as a painter that I realized how much of an effect it had on my work.
AMM: Was there ever a time where someone was critical of your work? How did you handle it?
TH: During my first semester in graduate school, my professors were extremely critical of my work, and rightfully so. It was bad. As I mentioned, I could paint, but had no sense of what made a good painting, compositionally, conceptually, etc. They really drilled into me and I ended up abandoning everything I had been doing and starting from square one. That’s where the work I’m making now, three years later, really began.
AMM: When you need a long and productive day of painting, how do you start your day to put you in the right mindset?
TH: I am 100% a night owl and I’ve learned over the years not to fight it. Trying to tap into any kind of creative mindset in the morning is always a struggle so the majority of my painting happens between 5pm and 12am. That being said, if I absolutely have to start early, coffee and long podcasts are key.
AMM: If you could meet any artist from history, who would you meet and why?
TH: At the risk of sounding clichéd, I think I have to say Picasso. I recently visited the Picasso Museum in Barcelona and every single piece was incredible. It was almost overwhelming how good everything was, especially the Las Meninas paintings. I’m still thinking about those. I left the museum feeling really inspired and just proud to be a painter.
AMM: You’ve already had a busy year, exhibiting your work in galleries in Oakland and Brooklyn. Was there a specific moment this year that you would consider a highlight?
TH: A definite highlight was having the opportunity to exhibit work with Kate Mothes. I’ve been following her blog, Young Space, since graduate school so to be a part of the project was awesome. It was also the first time exhibiting some of my more recent work, so it was great to get it out there.
Find out more about the artist: www.timothy-hoyt.com
Interview by Christina Nafziger for ArtMaze Mag.