Onondaga/Nez Perce artist Frank Buffalo Hyde (b. 1974) sees Hollywood and the fashion industry’s attempts at appropriation and raises them. With a keen eye and a vast skill set, he takes the pulse of culture trends, puts them in an artistic blender and holds up the results—playful, poignant and ofttimes uncomfortable—for the general populace to see.
What is your reality as a contemporary Native American artist?
A good part of it is being reactionary and marginalized, quite frankly. It's sort of like existing in the space between what goes on the rest of the year, and the high season, August, in Santa Fe. I've been doing this a while; when I started, there were maybe one or two people that were dealing with contemporary Native issues in popular culture and contemporary times, and now it seems like there's a lot of them, with varying degrees of skill and success on their commentary. My reality, I would say, is that I'm still holding up a mirror to popular society but I'm also not where I want to be yet—I have my eye on bigger venues and bigger conversations nationally. By sort of being persistent, I've earned a place in the contemporary Native art scene, whatever that is or wherever it exists outside of Santa Fe. It's one thing to be invited to the dinner, but it's another thing to hold your place at the table.
In being reactionary, what are some of the most interesting comments you've gotten in response to your work?
It's a fine line. I've done images of Gwen Stefani and her jacked-up portrayal of Native American imagery, and a lot of people that don't know the context to my work, just think, 'Oh, wow, I love that painting…I love the blonde hair and the feather,' and that's exactly what I'm trying not to get them to like. It's in the tradition of satire, but if you're not in on it you just won't get it. That's why I usually will throw it in the title to give people a hint. Like the title for that piece was 'In-appropriate #1,' and people were, like, 'I was gonna buy that but it says inappropriate on it.' So it's not one comment I can pick out; they either get it right away and love it or they just don't get it at all.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I resisted being an artist for a long time. My background is in music. All through high school and college, I was in bands. We had a pretty successful band in central New York that worked its way up to headlines. My father is an artist, and I have artists on my mother's side as well, so I thought, There are way too many artists in this family, what do I have to offer that they haven't already done? Then I started going to IAIA [Institute of American Indian Arts] for writing, and I took painting as an elective, and it slowly took over my writing projects, and I started spending more time in the studio. It sounds cliché and corny as shit, but it started kind of like a love affair, very slow, and then it developed into something where I felt that I could offer something to the conversation if I put the time in and acquired the skills.
This year you're doing your own thing and not participating in either market. Is it possible for an up-and-coming Native American artist to be seen and heard outside the market structure?
Absolutely. More and more people are their walking, talking PR campaigns, and they can do it all on their phones with social media. I know a lot of younger artists that keep everybody informed on what they're doing. Newsletters aren't necessary anymore because you can just follow them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and see their new works and where they're going to be showing, so absolutely. More and more I see that galleries are becoming irrelevant or passé because younger cats aren't even really thinking gallery anymore. They're thinking money and sales, and they're putting out their best PR because they're representing themselves.
See his art: Hyde, along with Marina Eskeets and Courtney M Leonard, presents Decked Out, a skateboard deck-themed exhibit, on Thursday, Aug. 20, at Studio Central (508 Camino de la Familia, 974-6122).