Manchester International Festival has been supporting a selection of local artists via remote residencies to create new work during lockdown. One participant who has been prolific for this period is the original Manchester drag terrorist and performance artist, David Hoyle. His manifesto reads: Receive & ReAct = an ongoing artist intervention into a pandemic.
Like a three-minute warning, Hoyle’s palette is urgent, insistent and immediate; fluorescent washes, bleached whites and schoolyard biro capture the visceral riposte of an artist responding to the present moment’s dystopian, political quagmire. The subject matter is the news cycle and churning out of political capital in a time of pandemonium, as Hoyle’s mercurial styling of slashes, flashes, drips and smears transform into fever-dream portraits. A cavalcade of phantasmagorical poltergeists inhabit his created spaces.
Bold, primary colours depict BoJo as a down-at-heel orang-u-tan. Caught in a web of self-aggrandising statements, his eyes brim tears uncried as Hoyle’s pen questions his position and the pressures of public office. Grant Shapps smirks beneath false lashes, a screaming Theresa May tucked into his breast pocket. Stream-of-consciousness images, words and symbols overlay each other in a rich psychological decoupage of crisis: ‘Halt all non-essential work, universal income for all.’ The messaging, deliciously seditious, calls out Johnson and his cabinet, whose fixed stares never meet the viewers’ gaze. Binary positions of opposing forces are caricatured in a ‘live Covid-19 debate’, captured in subtitled water colours of dazzlingly sour aqua, pinks and limes. Each piece intersects the performative nature of David Hoyle live and the daily news briefings that have become performance art; the poison pen replaces the wrathful vocabulary of his incendiary craft, as the artist dares to say what others won’t.
In contrast, minimal muted, spectral figures stripped bare, rise in nuclear-winter ink to haunt the page. Chris Witty is questioned by the press, ‘Does he have pneumonia?’ Confident lines, drawn with a flowing delicacy and finesse, belie angles so sharp they would mug you in a dark alley. These figures are as vicious as their eyes are dead.
Scribbled backdrops of intense, explosive impulses add dynamism in Yeah! Right! A gay couple with chiselled Adonis physiques, stubble and quaffed hair stand in their underwear. Oblivious, they wonder as they cleanse their hands how ‘dreamy’ the hand sanitiser is and how ‘gladly’ they’d pay $100 for it. Hoyle’s savage commentary is not just for the straight white hegemony of the patriarchal global elite; his work on and off stage challenges and questions the newly structured norms of LGBTQI culture, too.
This is the dada diary of Hoyle’s confinement, the thoughts and feelings of an unstable, abnormal new reality captured in real time in raw, uncompromising emotion. David Hoyle, pioneer of the avant-garde, questions the reliability and authenticity of our leaders in a surreal moment of modern history. These instinctual works are ongoing; they will punctuate time as the pandemic continues to unfold. Put simply, this is guerrilla art-making at its frenzied finest.
Receive & ReAct can be viewed via David Hoyle’s Instagram here.
Image: David Hoyle, 2020
I write short stories and poetry alongside studying religion and anthropology at the University of Manchester. My story “Girl’s World” was in the highly recommended list for the Manchester Fiction prize 2019.