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Desert artist Bernard Hoyes draws upon Jamaican culture

For over four decades Jamaican-born visual artist Bernard Hoyes has captured powerful imagery of the masses and Afro-Caribbean ancestral spirituality. Best known for his “Revival” series, Hoyes recalls his Jamaican roots through rhythmic movement, vivid colors, and spiritual forwardness.

Most recently Hoyes co-curated the “Visual Voice” exhibition with Charles Bibbs at the Riverside Art Museum. The museum highlighted the renaissance of 19 black artists during their quest for self-validation during the ’80s and ’90s in Southern California.

Hoyes’ dedication to his craft is evident from an extensive list of acclaimed commissions and exhibitions. His work has appeared on “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World,” and hangs in the collections of Oprah Winfrey, Steve Harvey and Richard Pryor, among others.

Now Hoyes permanently resides at the top of a mountain in Desert Hot Springs. His studio and home, Syncona Mesa, is the creative vortex that allows his work to flourish amidst a barren desert.

His new “Watercolors” series, an artistic observation of his current surroundings, will be at the Izen Miller Gallery in Rancho Mirage for public display starting Saturday, Nov. 19.

Here is an edited excerpt from my recent chat with Hoyes:

How long have you been in the desert?

I originally bought this space 25 years ago as my studio space. I would come out here from Los Angeles on a Wednesday and stay two to three days and paint 24/7. Because of the remote location, I was very productive. I had the ability to come out here, paint, lock up, and leave. Now I’ve lived here full-time for the past three years with my wife.

How has living in the desert influenced your art? Weather, lifestyle, etc.?

It took a while to digest living in the desert. My current “Watercolors” series reflects the spirit of the desert and how the animals coexist. The other day I was sitting in my front yard and I watched a snake shoot up and devour a small bird. The other birds tried to come to its rescue, but it was too late. That is the true nature of the wild things.

What medium do you work with the most and why?

Mostly oil paint on canvas. There’s a lot you can do with it and it lasts. When I was younger I would use bedsheets as canvas and paint on them. That always upset my mother.

How has your Jamaican upbringing influenced the themes of your artwork?

I was raised by my aunt and she thought going to school would corrupt me, so I learned through the Bible. I didn’t formally start school until I was 10 and I didn’t do very well. In Jamaica you either go to school or do a trade. Both options didn’t work for me and I began working at the age of 11. The lifestyle of Jamaican workers became a theme in my work.

Where does your inspiration come from? Historical, cultural, personal experiences?

I grew up around conscious individuals that emphasized the importance of black consciousness. The black community wasn’t kept alive because of the protests and grievances, but the belief in the faith of our ancestral spirit.

What's your favorite artwork and why?

“Dancing for the Lord” is the most iconic of the “Revival” series. As a painting it achieved a level of expression in its totality that brought out the best of my accumulated skills at that point in my art practice. It speaks, it sings, it transports and transcends. Professionally it did the same thing for me as an artist.

What messages are you trying to convey through your art?

That spiritual consciousness transcends racial boundaries. I thought my “Revival” series would only be appreciated by black people, but white people attained the spirit through black consciousness. It’s a teaching tool that helped to understand each other’s plight.

How does your work shed light to the racial incidents (covered by) today's media?

I believe that elevating your consciousness about your ancestry and knowing your own spiritual foundation allows individuals to participate in each other’s lives. Those themes are represented in my works and that still applies today.

What's the collective theme of the artwork you're showing at the Izen Miller Gallery in Rancho Mirage?

My impression of the desert since moving here. I wanted to portray the spirit of the land. The compositions are more suggestive and less descriptive. I relied on the controlled recession of details through plane after plane, allowing the observer to wander across, into the picture space, in a kind of vicarious experience of nature.

What do you want the community to take away from your work?

Not necessarily take away, but encourage a co-habitant creative community; develop a zone where artists can live, work, and sell their art in the same space.


What: “Diversity” featuring artists from the desert

When: Opening reception 6-8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19. The gallery is also open by appointment.

Where: Izen Miller Gallery at The River, 71800 Highway 111, Suite B113, Rancho Mirage


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