A month in Salzburg, Austria, as an Anderson Center exchange artist gave Michael Hoyt the opportunity to explore a subject that has eluded him for years: himself.
Hoyt and his wife, Sarah Mickelson, both were transracially adopted. His Asian heritage and much of his wife's Korean heritage were not emphasized when they became part of Minnesota caucasian families.
"Your history is sealed from you," Hoyt said. As a person of color in his Minnesota family, "I always felt I was 'other'" in a cultural context. He was adopted at birth, and the challenge of exploring his identification came later in life.
"It's complicated," he said. He and his wife both deeply love the couples who adopted them in the 1970s, but they also wonder, "Where does our history start?"
Sarah was not adopted until age 3 and later was able to reunite with her birth mother in Korea. They traveled and communicated, he said, so she was able to take steps bridging the two identities and addressing her feelings of loss and abandonment.
Hoyt has focused his creative talents working as a nonprofit arts administrator in Minneapolis. For 20 years he has produced, managed and directed arts-based community development projects and youth development programs in the community.
It did not leave much time to explore his roots as a painter, to think about his historical narrative, to engage in "more personal work exploring diaspora and the personal and cultural impacts of ambiguous loss," he wrote.
"This to me is a sort of longing: chemical, biological, mystical. ..."
"I believe art and artistic practice can be healing work, and therefore in this time and space created for me, I chose to look back in order to move forward."
Hoyt engaged in various forms of drawing and painting while working out of a guest studio in Salzburg's contemporary art center during the month of July. During that time, mixed media artist Stefan Kreiger was at Tower View in Red Wing as the City of Salzburg's exchange fellow.
Hoyt's explorations included traditional water-based drawings and studies using gouache and Chinese ink on paper, he said, in addition to hand-rendering digital work on a tablet. "I'm exploring animation and layering using the computer."
He revisited themes from his past work and focused on thoughts and ideas he wanted to purge. "It's given me a chance to complete a couple of ideas and start a fresh body of new work," he said.
Having two young children and a full-time job plus collaborating on bigger projects gave Hoyt little time for this work.
But his daughters — beautiful, creative and powerful young women who are coming into their identities — are perhaps the primary reason Hoyt embraced the opportunities represented by the Austria residency.
He does not believe that children are well served by having their pasts put aside. "It's better to talk about our whole selves," Hoyt said.
"I have a deep desire at this moment to share with them these vibrant, sour, pungent and deeply nuanced truths" about their parents' historical narrative, he explained.
"I don't want their pasts to be sealed from them, but rather, I want art and the stories of their parents to seed the gardens which they will grow and tend throughout their lives."
Looking forward, he added, "They get to start our family lineage from essentially zero. ... They get to be the flowers that blossom into the future."
The artist residency in Austria "came to me at the right time," Hoyt said. "I did my best to take advantage of it," and he continues to process the complex experience.
"I feel none of this work is complete," he said, "but rather expressions or sketches of what is to come."