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James Hoyle: A Modern Van Gogh

by Larry LeDoux

Artists in Paradise, Fall 1984, p. 16



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Kauai Museum
For the last several years residents and visitors to Kauai have watched artist James Hoyle render in oils and pastels the ancient tin-roofed houses and false-fronted stores of the island’s small plantation towns. Sometimes, the children, fascinated with his work, even help mix colors. “They ask about the little strokes that seem to vibrate,” Hoyle recounts, “and their favorite colors are the hot pinks, the reds and the violets.” There are lots of such colors, as Hoyle explains: “These old buildings have a certain earthiness. They are part of the landscape. The rusty roofs match the red earth of the roads. The weathered woods blend in with the dark shadows of the land. Any of the impressionists would go wild here.”
 
Hoyle came to Hawaii in 1977, living first on Maui and then moving to Kauai in the early 80’s. His interest in old buildings is not new; in Tennessee and Florida, Louisiana, even New Mexico, he delighted in old barns and farms and the contrasts of colors and textures when their rust-red roofs and weathered, iron-gray timbers are placed against the blues of sky, the green of trees and meadows, the gold of wheat fields. For such a painter, an impressionist working in the manner of van Gogh, a move to Hawaii was natural. Few other places in the world offer an artist the same sun-drenched richness and abundance of color, the same vibrancy of light, together with a climate that allows outdoor work nearly every day of the year. Hoyle’s own training and experience, his knowledge of color and light, his mastery of post-impressionist techniques - these assure his success and explain the magical expressionistic glow that, much as in van Gogh’s work, enhances and transforms the surface beauty of the scenes he paints. From the beginning, in Florida, landscape painting engaged his interest. The more he was allowed and encouraged to go outdoors and work on location, the better his work became. Nineteenth Century impressionism was itself a natural development of the artists moving out of the studio and into the countryside, so it is not unusual that Hoyle began to develop plein air techniques and style. However, these alone do not explain the similarity of his paintings to van Gogh’s, or the special, luminous effect they have. What does is Hoyle’s decision to work primarily in pastels.

As a student he was encouraged to experiment with all kinds of mediums. These experiments led him to pastels, a particularly difficult medium for impressionist painting – since it does not allow the blending of colors that is possible with oils – but nonetheless a medium better suited to outdoor work. An outdoor painter must work quickly, so as to capture a scene before the light changes. This is difficult to do with oils, which dry slowly. Pastels can be fixed and then the artist can paint through them.
     

Aala Park, Pastel, 26" x 32" 
   
Pastels have other advantages, as Hoyle explains. “Degas was one of the first to use them. He discovered that he could get more crisp and luminous colors and a soft quality especially appropriate to his ballet scenes. For myself, oils are difficult to use outdoors. The linseed oil and the varnish are likely to create a glare in the sunlight. Pastels are much softer, they can’t crack and they don’t fade.”

“Pastel pigments are the same as those used in oils; they just don’t have the linseed oil binding. However, using pastels is not without difficulties. For example, one of the staples of impressionistic technique is the blending of colors, but pastels cannot be blended.
To achieve impressionistic effects, they must be mixed, and this can only be done by juxtaposition.” To resolve this difficulty, Hoyle developed the technique of scumbling: applying a dark under-coating, fixing it, and then applying lighter colors over the top. This allows the creation of highlights and shadows, of textures and degrees of depth. Stylistically, it allows him to balance light and dark, to create strong intrusions of light into areas of shadow and to establish contrasts by imposing a light object against a darker one, or the branches of a tree against the blue of sky or the gold of sun light slanting across a meadow.
     

Haena Seascape
     
The nice thing about being an impressionist painter is working outdoors. The natural motions of things, the natural arrangements of lights and shadows and textures, inspires much of his work. He selects scenes to paint only if in themselves they are arranged to startle and capture the eye, and his eye – and mind and imagination – is captured not by compositions of form, but by arrangements of dark and light, by contrasts and juxtapositions and impositions of color. Once his eye is captured, Hoyle is inspired to paint the scene, to preserve its appearance as well as its mood, the emotional effect it has had on him. Selected for composition, he modifies such scenes only for balance or other effect. “An impressionist captures what is outside of himself; an expressionist captures how he feels about it. My paintings do both. I usually paint what I see, but if it isn’t right I will exaggerate it. If natural colors are weak, I will make them richer. What I love so much is the mood of the landscape, the emotion of it. I feel that by painting on location, being with nature, having a sensitivity to nature, I can get closer to the spirit of it, to the emotion I experience perceiving it. And the closer I can get to nature, the more easily will the viewer understand, from the very energy of my painting, from the brushstrokes themselves, the mood, the emotion of the scene.”
 
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