Interview: Talking Totems and Being Possessed With NYC-Based Artist John Hoyos


Because of the variability in temperatures lately, the people here at Tompkins Square Park are mad to get some sun. Amidst the sunbathers, there’s a jazz band playing and some sort of community meeting with a woman shouting through a megaphone. Trees are blossoming and the rats are in hiding.

I’m here to meet up with John Hoyos, a Colombian artist and illustrator currently based out of the East Village. I spot John in a crowd of kickball-playing kids from a school nearby. He's riding a skateboard. Before we start, he wants to successfully land a 360 flip “one more time.” A minute later and done; he walks over and is ready to chat.

Tell me a little about yourself and your art?
Well, my name is John Hoyos. I’ve been living in the city for about ten years now. I lived in California for a little bit. Ever since I was able to write, I’ve been making drawings and illustrating stuff. Mostly the things in my mind, y'know.

How would you describe your style? And what different kind of media do you use?
A lot of artists have a particular style that they do and it’s pretty much the same all the time. I love that. I think it’s so cool. I just can’t have that. Maybe that singularity will come naturally in the future. I was always thinking, Man, I want to create a style that is unique and every time anyone sees it they will recognize it and know it’s me—but I can’t do that, ’cause I’m constantly changing, always trying new things.

You have a very particular kind of humor.
Do I? How is it?

Everything is satire. Take your Instagram: You told me your favorite people to follow on Instagram are those that post sardonic humor. Similar to them, it’s like you’re trolling everyone. Everyone is asking, "What the heck is John putting up?" but you’re having the first and last laugh.
Yes. Definitely. That sort of humor is sardonic, but I find inspiration in a lot of different things. I’ve been drawing skulls my whole life; it’s something that I like drawing, and something that I’ve always been drawn to. A lot of people look at those things as something negative. They look at it as morbid, like death, this and that, it’s dark… I don’t think it should be like that. I look at death like birth; it’s just another transition in someone’s life. Cyclical. So why not embrace something that we all share? It’s like our common denominator if that makes any sense?

When seeing your work in person, what struck me right away is the attention to detail. Symmetry. I don’t how much symmetry is your focus, but I see it, especially in the Totem series.
It’s funny because those are all freehand drawings. There is no using rulers or anything like that.

A lot of the time, before I start drawing I begin with an idea. I don’t know right away how I’m going to get that idea on paper, but before I even begin drawing I have to warm up. It's similar to driving: before you take the car out, you take a few minutes to warm up. You shift the gear into neutral and push on the gas. I kind of do the same thing. I sit there with a piece of paper and I start sketching random stuff before I start up on things.

Most of the time I have an idea of what I want to draw. It could be a thought, something I saw once. I don’t know, a beautiful lady? First, I have an idea and the rest just is sort of going at it. Something just happens. I don’t even know—five or ten hours later, I end up with the final product. And there is something that tells me to stop and I’m like, “OK, this is how I want it to look,” and I just let it go. I know it’s very cliché, and a lot of people might say that, but it’s honest—that is how I do it.

How did the Totem series come about? You recently had your first show at Waverly Gallery in the West Village.
That was a good turnout. It was a lot of fun. Those drawings, I did those about two years ago. They are inspired by the indigenous people of the Americas, and by something I read back in high school. Actually, I remember not reading that much about pre-Colombian art but really memorizing and being stoked and amazed by the drawings, sculptures, and all of that stuff.

All of those drawings are a recollection of thoughts and all of these images I had in my mind put together. They ended up looking like totems, and that’s what I end up calling them. And a totem is a spiritual being that represents a group of whole, a family. That was the inspiration for those drawings. I have a lot of respect for Natives, and Native Americans in general. Any way I can pay tribute to them is great!

Who are some of your favorite artists?
There are a lot. As far as illustrators go, I like Wes Lang. David Choe, his stuff and his story are just mind-blowing. I truly believe that most artists work are the manifestation of higher beings through human beings. I also like Botero. He’s a Colombian painter and sculptor and one of my primary influencers. He’s known for illustrating these plump characters. Gabriel Garcia Marquez also, his poetry and work were pure art. Most of his best work was fiction, but I really believe he lived a lot of it.

Glad you mentioned that element of superstition. How does that come into play?
When I did the totems, it was all inspired by the pre-Colombian art, which I told you about, but I don’t know what propelled me to do those. Maybe those were the manifestations of those higher beings through my art and me? As ridiculous as that sounds, I do believe in that. When I’m drawing I feel like something takes over, and an hour later, there’s an end product.

Any last words?
There’s a saying that if you don’t work on your dreams, you’ll be busy working on someone else’s.

Images: John Hoyos

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