Specializing in pieces “for Indians to have, and that gets white people to think,” Kiowa/Choctaw artist Steven Paul Judd draws from the lack of mainstream Native American culture during his childhood and rewrites history. This is reflected in pieces depicting Rock’em Sock’em Indians, a fry bread-flavored, Warhol-inspired spray can emblazoned with the Campbell’s Soup logo or a Magic 8-Ball that tragically reveals, “She is your cousin.”
Where does your aesthetic come from?
You know, what it is for me, is that I make things that I want to see. So I like cool pop stuff, right? And I like movies and music, and I'm also Native American. I grew up on a reservation when I was a kid, went to an all-Native college. I like my Native stuff, obviously, but I still like things that other people like. I live in the same world that other people live in, and I just found that there wasn't what I felt was cool, pop culture stuff made for me—stickers, toys, action figures—I didn't feel like they were necessarily speaking to things that I saw or that my family saw, so I decided to do my best to try to make my own.
What are some of the differences between the reactions to your work from Native Americans versus non-Native Americans?
Some people wonder what’s going on in my mind. That’s the weirdest thing for me to try to understand, because I don’t feel like my mind is doing anything different than anyone else’s, I just see it, and that’s what comes to my head. So far it’s been good. What’s really cool is, like, if I do something that little kids really like and then their parents get it for them. I really like that, because when I was a kid, the only Native Americans I was able to see on TV were Iron Eyes Cody—he did those trash commercials, and he wasn’t even Native, he was Italian—and Ponch on
but he wasn’t Native American, and we had Tonto, Jay Silverheels, on old reruns, but besides historical Westerns, I didn’t see any Natives anywhere in popular culture at all. So to have kids dig on things that I’ve made, I really like that, because I’ve always thought of myself as a kid.
How do you separate the fine artist side of yourself and the guerrilla street artist side, or do you not even worry about it at all?
I totally don't. When I wake up and think of something that I wanna make, then I make it. So sometimes it may be a mural, stencils on walls, pop playful things, Photoshop things, but it's not because I specifically think, Man, this is what I want to do today. It's more like I wake up and that's what I want to do. Sometimes, it may be a painting that strikes someone as more like a fine art piece but it's not because I made a conscious decision to do one over the other. I just try to make what I want to see, and as long as I do that, I can't be disappointed if no one likes it, because I was kind of making it for myself.
Is there a subject you have yet to explore or a parody that you haven't gotten a chance to make yet?
I live in Oklahoma, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with the land run. What happened was they moved a lot of the tribes to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears, Long Walk and stuff like that, and then the government decided, ‘Hey, we need this land,’ and they called it unassigned land. The problem was, people were living here, so in Oklahoma history, and if you go downtown in Oklahoma City, you’ll see these statues of huge, giant people. They’re supposed to commemorate the land run, so I thought,
This is gonna be cool, I bet they look awesome
…and I got down there, and there are zero Native people. What I want to do, one day, is do this big installation piece. There’s a big statue of this chuck wagon or whatever they’re called, schooner, and horses rearing going across a river. I’d like to take some Native actors and make it look like they’re statues, so I’ll paint their face and bodies to look bronze, wearing traditional clothing from that time period, and have them in the river bank. It looks like the horse is rearing up, like it’s about to run over something, and I would have [the actors] stand under it like they’re getting run over, and then put some people in the other parts of park to interact with the other statues. My point basically is to, yeah, show these people here because they are the forefathers of a lot of people here, but they’re leaving out half the story. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s a big project I want to do. It’s a combination of pop art, guerrilla art and also just teaching people history.
Play: Judd debuts his Lego man-inspired ALL Action Figure collection Thursday, Aug. 20, at Pop Gallery (125 Lincoln Ave., Ste. 111, 820-0788).