David Hoyle, performance artist, on Claes Oldenburg’s, Soft Drainpipe, Blue (Cool) Version
GB Tell me why you chose this.
DH It really hit me when I was a kid and we were on a school trip to the Tate. I was very young and for some reason it really just got me because it was so unusual, partly the colour of it, and once I’d learned the title, that really blew my mind; obviously the basic idea of something we think is solid being soft. I’ve read up about it since and when I was a child I didn’t see the phallic aspect of it that people talk about. Apparently it can be adjusted at the top so it hangs in different ways. But it does show the power of symbolism and I did see a crucifix in it.
GB Have you seen the Red Hot version? Why did you go for the blue?
DH Because it was the Cool Blue I saw as I a child and the red one sounds a bit full on.
GB So you had no awareness of who the artists was or where he came from? It just struck you on sight?
DH Yes. I just fell in love with it, starting with the colour. But it had a real presence to it. For me, it had a spiritual aspect. He was a remarkable artist to wanted his art to express the erotic and the spiritual and the mystical. He was anti-war too. There’s a sculpture he made at Yale that’s a huge lipstick on Caterpillar tracks. He’s a very interesting artist.
GB Did the aspect of fun in his work appeal to you?
DH Absolutely. I don’t want to just dwell on crucifixion. He must have been a breath of fresh air at the time. There is something camp about it. I find the drainpipe quite defiant and subversive. It’s almost draining out the masculinity of the object, creating something softer, that people might traditionally ascribe to a more feminine sensitivity.
GB Is it surprising that he’s a straight man but he made this and the huge lipstick?
DH Very much so! But it doesn’t make a difference to his work. I think he’s in a spiritual realm so then it depends whether you ascribe genitals to spirits and I don’t.
GB Do you think about beauty much in your own performance art?
DH I’d like to. I’ve been thinking about it today because Holly Revell (an artist who documents other artists) is doing a nice book of photographs and she’s given me a few blank pieces of paper and photographs so I can contribute and it becomes more collaborative.
GB Do you associate beauty with art in general?
DH I think the fact that people want to do it is beautiful. Then if they makes something that connects with us or articulates something we might have thought subconsciously, it reminds us that we’re not alone. I think we live in a world that doesn’t reflect our soul and our spirit and we can feel lost, so our link with life is through creativity.
GB Do you think something can be camp and beautiful at the same time?
DH I think it can. What was the Baroque and Rococo all about?
GB Do you think there was an irony to Baroque art? I think there were a lot of artists then who genuinely believed they were creating the most beautiful things in the world.
DH For me, works that really resonate with beauty are things like the paintings of L.S. Lowry.
GB Do you think Claes Oldenburg was consciously trying to create beauty?
DH Yes. I think the whole idea of representing something in a different way like that was quite psychedelic, a rebellion against traditional beauty. The appeal of his work never wears off. We need something to make us smile and break up the monotony.
GB Would you want to own Soft Drainpipe?
DH No, I think as many as people as possible should see it. It’s worthy of veneration.
GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
DH It’s something that makes you feel glad to be alive. It connects with you on a vibrational level.