By Anand Holla
Soon after she moved to Doha, Pip Hoy found herself preoccupied mostly with her toddler son Sam, or the large, empty white walls of her roomy West Bay villa. Like some purposeful do-it-yourself project, Hoy decided to start painting abstract art and fill up the walls.
That was four years ago. Today, her living room, on a couch of which she sits and chats, softly reverberates with the reflected aura of a few exquisite works of art on its walls — a couple of “Pip Hoys” included. Shrugging, she says, “I had no intention of setting up shop as a professional artist.”
Unbeknownst to Hoy, filling those walls with acrylic on canvas was filling her life with a newfound passion. “My friends would ask me about them, or if I posted a picture of my painting on Facebook, I would get great feedback,” she says. Initially, Hoy gifted a few of them because, she jokes, she “couldn’t believe anyone would want to buy my paintings in the first place.”
On the upper story, her first painting still rests on a shelf in the corridor outside her studio awash in a sea of natural light. “It was just splotches,” she says and laughs.
Soon enough, Hoy’s friends started asking if she could make one for them. “Things just snowballed from there and within six months of starting out, I got commissioned for two paintings,” she says. However, Hoy was a tad too modest for her own good. “I was terrified because I hadn’t done anything like that before,” she says. It all worked out well in the end.
After showing her works in several group exhibitions in Doha and slowly developing a niche, crème de la crème clientele, the Australian, on October 15, will unveil her first solo exhibition titled Resilience at Grand Hyatt Doha, which will be up till January 2015.
What makes Hoy’s story particularly inspiring is how she found a way to get back to where she once belonged. “Right from my school days, I was always interested in creative endeavours,” she recalls, “I studied Textiles & Design, for which I won the top honours upon graduating from school. I was planning to go to fashion school but chickened out at the last minute. There was no-one to encourage me in that direction. It just didn’t seem practical.”
So Hoy did what most people in her place do — she ignored her inner voice. Next, Hoy got herself “a practical degree” in Economics and Marketing, landed a fine job and made a bunch of money.
“Working as a headhunter in the recruitment industry was nice but my life lacked colour,” she says.
Once she met her husband, moved to Singapore with him and had a son, Hoy knew she wouldn’t be returning to her corporate life. “We had decided that after starting a family, I would stay at home, at least for a while,” says Hoy. And therein lay her opportunity to revive her creative side from hibernation.
“But so many years had gone by that I wasn’t sure of what I could do anymore,” Hoy says. In her spare time in Singapore, Hoy took up several courses such as graphic designing, quilting, drawing, and painting. “Nothing grabbed my attention,” she reminisces.
Moving to Qatar culminated in an unexpected moment of clarity. “I discovered painting here,” she says, of meeting an Australian artist in Doha, who helped provide her the “spark of inspiration” she had been seeking vacantly. “I wanted to just try painting,” Hoy says, “She suggested that I start off just doodling on a canvas, much like we doodle when we are on the phone and have a pen and a paper in hand.”
Doodle she did, and soon enough, measured brush-strokes interwoven with circular-shaped figures and soothing colours were showing Hoy the way ahead. “I find painting incredibly meditative and peaceful. I am happiest when I am in that space. I feel alive and fulfilled. That said, at times, I get frustrated, too,” she muses, about her works that take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to complete.
Ever-pleasing to the eye and near-hypnotic in its composition, Hoy’s works abound in circles, dots, dashes, and grids, among other themes. On her website, her bio starts with a quote from the 1997 Australian comedy film The Castle: “Mate, can you feel the serenity?” That could also be an appropriate response upon viewing her art.
With such a keen eye for colour, it’s no wonder that one of Hoy’s primary objectives of painting is to use colours in amazing ways. “Colours are like visual food. I love them in all their forms. The narrow colour palette of the Qatari landscape, the Arab desert, fascinates me because it’s very neutral and there’s so much to see. There’s texture, shadows, light at different times of day, and multiple variations of white and beige,” she explains.
Appreciating the near-monotone look of the desert took her time though. “I was uncomfortable with it at first because it was unlike anything I had ever seen before and I struggled with the bare visual of it,” she says. Also, Hoy came to Doha from Singapore, the “deep, rich, lush tropical environment” with the choicest of flora and fauna familiarising her with the other extreme of the colour spectrum.
Hoy’s Qatar influence becomes more apparent in her collage work though, such as the crescent moon piece, or her chic, modern take on the evil eye amulet. Inspired by Doha-based artist Mariana Heilmann, Hoy turned to collage, using newspapers and magazines to communicate ideas.
“I am fascinated by Arabic writing. So I create collage out of them. Since I don’t know what they say, there’s this whole experience of me putting these beautiful symbols together and working within a collage piece,” says Hoy. Just to be sure that she doesn’t offend anyone, she picks lines or words from the Sports pages of Arabic newspapers to create collage works.
A look through Hoy’s art, circles stand out as a recurring theme, or “a consistent story,” as Hoy puts it. “There have been many influences. Australian aboriginal art is known for its dot paintings. We got that chair over there,” she says, pointing at a cushioned cream-coloured chair covered in brown and white dots, “from Australia, and I borrowed the idea from there as well. All of the great Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s work is about circles.”
“It’s amazing how a circle represents a universal symbol, shape. It’s really attractive. I find its simplicity alluring,” Hoy continues, “My mother was a seamstress, and I would watch her stitch for hours. I find working with dots similar to stitching.”
All the dedication and perseverance seems to have paid off for Hoy. The works she has created in the past 12 months, by pouring her heart and soul, will soak the limelight at the Grand Hyatt exhibition, next month. A coming together of the skills she has developed in the last four years, Hoy’s solo exhibition will be a lot like the culmination of the artist in her.
Does she ever feel that she may have been a little late in turning to her talent?
Hoy reasons, “Throughout history, there are stories of people who have discovered their purpose or passion much later in life. An Australian aboriginal man, for instance, who started painting in his 70s, very quickly gained national and later international acclaim for his extraordinarily beautiful work.”
Relating to the many expat women of Qatar, Hoy says, “Almost everything I have done on this journey has been just because, you know, just to try it. As women, we see our husbands go to work, children go to school and everything that we do is about our family.” Except something like this, that is. “So this, creating art, it is just for me,” she says.
Sometime last year, Hoy’s confidence pushed her into thinking of holding a solo exhibition. Humble as she is, Hoy admits courting such unmitigated attention to be a scary thought. “This time, it was about stepping out and saying it’s all about me. But my husband and some friends supported me. I decided to give it a go. And I am really happy that I did,” she says.
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