Wednesday 30 June 2021


Bernard Hoyes believes that art can make a difference, and his creations - especially his latest output - attest to this view.

Hoyes, an acclaimed Jamaican-born, US-based painter and sculptor, is increasingly using his work to redefine public spaces, in addition to portraying his Caribbean background and vision. He ranks among the lead artists in “Paint the City”, for instance, a project organized by the Jamaican non-profit group Kingston Creative that has transformed sections of the island’s capital through bold, colourful murals.

Alongside this involvement, Hoyes recently completed the installation of a monumental sculpture titled The Mating Dance of the Hummingbirds, a work now gracing the entrance to the headquarters of the Port Authority of Jamaica in the historical Duke Street district, also located in “downtown” Kingston.

“The idea for this work has its roots back in the Eighties, when I took part in an exhibition with another artist, hanging paintings in buildings that had been burnt out in the political violence of the 1970s,” Hoyes told SWAN. “From that time, the issue of Kingston Restoration was a matter of restoring architectural icons downtown. But the painting of the murals organized by Kingston Creative three years ago sparked a certain momentum where other things started to happen, such as the decision to create the sculptures.”

The Mating Dance is the first sculpture commissioned for Kingston’s “Walking Museum Project”, part of another restoration initiative, funded by local and international bodies including the European Union.

Difficulties occurred, however, after the completion and during the installation process because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Hoyes said. First, his trip to Kingston from his home and work base in California was delayed because he contracted the coronavirus and had to spend two months recuperating. Then, the time it took to clear the sculpture through customs in Kingston was much longer than expected because of lockdowns, following the transportation across the seas in a shipping container.

When the work was finally up, the Port Authority tweeted on May 19 that it “was more than honored to provide the space for this amazing sculpture that is aimed at beautifying the downtown area and making it an attractive tourist destination”.

Composed of stainless steel for outdoor durability, the sculpture features wings made from translucent Lucite rods, containing solar LED lights. The solar components enable sunlight to be captured during the day, providing energy for the wings to “come alive” in multi-coloured hues at nightfall. So, as workers leave their offices in the district, they are greeted by the birds’ luminescence.

For Hoyes, who grew up in downtown Kingston, these public art projects are a way to give something back to the community of his childhood, after a successful global career. He said he was inspired by the Jamaican national motto “Out of Many One People” and the fact that the hummingbird is the national symbol.

The sculpture’s 120-pound steel birds sit atop a 12-foot-high double helix, and this “speaks to the procreation of all species, reminding us that we share the same DNA,” Hoyes said.

Known primarily for his vivid paintings of women singing and dancing in revivalist celebrations, Hoyes has long had an interest in sculpture, even as his paintings were being collected by personalities such as Oprah Winfrey and Natalie Cole.

“I’ve made my reputation as a painter, but when I started out as a youth in Jamaica, I used to carve little wooden heads, so I was already into the 3-D exposure when I was in high school,” he told SWAN. “Then when I moved to California, I realized that sculpture took a lot of start-up money, and as I was very transient at first, I found it easier to roll up canvases and carry them with me.”

He returned to sculpture in 2002, embarking on a residency in China seven years later, and refitting his studio in California to make it more suitable for monumental projects.

In addition to the tributes for his hummingbirds, Hoyes has received praise for his participation in the painting of murals that have transfigured areas of downtown Kingston.

Arts observers say that the more than 60 murals to date have changed the ambience of areas long-considered no-go zones because of neglect, crime and gang warfare - even if much more still needs to be done economically to help residents.

Andrea Dempster-Chung, the Executive Director of Kingston Creative, told SWAN that it has been “a huge honour” for the Downtown Kingston Art District to have “public artworks by an artist of Hoyes’ calibre”.

“Hoyes was raised in Downtown Kingston, in a community called Kingston Gardens and so he is of this community,” Dempster-Chung said in an email interview. “He is a local artist that migrated and succeeded in the US, where he is primarily recognized as a contemporary painter whose work evolves from a highly intuitive space. He is heralded for his ability to capture spiritual realms on canvas in radiant and brilliant essence.”

She explained that the inspiration behind Kingston Creative was “to find a way to harness” the Caribbean island’s “raw talent” and to convert it into “sustainable social transformation” and economic growth.

She added that although creativity is an area where Jamaica has “an undeniable global competitive advantage”, it is not yet being used to “convert raw talent into growth, as the ecosystem isn't sufficiently developed for artists and creatives to thrive”.

“Arts and placemaking can also generate employment, regenerate urban areas in a balanced and inclusive way and support reduction in crime, all of which would be amazing outcomes for Jamaica,” Dempster-Chung said.

She told SWAN that once Hoyes had heard of the project, which was launched in 2018, he wanted to get involved.

“Bernard contacted us online, then came in person to an event and volunteered to paint the very first mural in the Art District,” Dempster-Chung recalled.

“Aptly titled ‘Celebration’, the mural has become an iconic fixture in the Art District and celebrates the re-emergence of Downtown Kingston as a creative space.”

Artists who supported Hoyes in painting this mural included Jeanna Lindo, Alec Champanie and Osemere Ehikhametalor. 

“We did this mural all in one week,” Hoyes told SWAN. “We started like on the Wednesday and finished up on the Sunday. But there were a lot of other artists that had individual murals, so we all worked together during that period. It has been an incredible experience.”

PHOTO credit: Doris Gross. Images (top to bottom): Bernard Hoyes with The Mating Dance of the Hummingbirds; the sculpture at night; one of Hoyes' iconic paintings; the mural Hoyes spearheaded.  

For an earlier profile of Bernard Hoyes, see: