Frank Buffalo Hyde
The paintings by Onondaga artist Frank Buffalo Hyde are layered and complex in composition. Educated at the Institute of American Indian Arts and the Santa Fe Art Institute, Hyde’s first creative interests were in music and poetry, but he narrowed his focus to mixed-media painting while in college. Hyde’s work draws upon imagery from popular culture—advertisements, movies, television, music, and politics—to present alternative perspectives on contemporary Native experiences. His influences include his father Doug Hyde, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Fritz Scholder, and his work confronts issues pertaining to identity, commercialization, and processes of exoticization.
Hyde’s artwork questions labels and image perceptions, such as those associated with being an “Indian artist.” Concerned that this label implies that he, as a Native person, is not part of American culture, he asserts a pro-active role for defining Native identity in the contemporary world. Native cultures have had a profound effect on American culture—American cars, clothes, food, and television are part of the everyday Native experience; therefore Indian identity, according to Hyde, should reflect this continued connection to popular culture.
Hyde demonstrates the role that commercialism plays in building fallacies about Native lifeways and culture. Throughout his work, he layers text, bold color shapes, visible brush strokes, and paradoxical references to dismantle stereotypes of Indian art and the American Indian experience. For example, in Where Do Warriors Come From? (2007), he presents a portrait of a female with flowers and a pistol, and in another, Hearts and Culture #2 (2009), a topless woman lounging between an ice cream cone and a buffalo. The end result is thoughtful and iconographically complex. In one painting, he employs a vintage erotic photograph as a subtle foundation, unnoticeable at first, to signify the commodification of Indian arts. Where commercialism takes away significance, Hyde presents his version, full of meaning. Sample Painting with Bigfoot (2004) depicts the folkloric creature to parallel the exoticization of Native people. In his view, the average person considers Indian culture elusive and hard to understand and, through half-truths and assumptions, has elevated Native people to the same level of mythology.
Hyde tackles difficult issues in his artwork, such as genocide, colonization, rape and land theft, which inevitably produce images that can be uncomfortable, shocking or unpleasant. In the worlds he creates, a Hopi Maiden is branded with a barcode, Indian men carry bright balloons on their way to war parties, and buffalo roam through pop culture landscapes cut from old newspaper advertisement pages. One main concept that he promotes is that Native people are taking an active role in reclaiming their stories and representations. His paintings show the complexity of modern Native experiences, and how, like the layers in his artwork, those experiences include levels of individualism, tribalism and pan-Indianness, as well as American and global influences.
Additional Resources compiled by Students in the Contemporary Native American Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Spring 2013
“Frank Buffalo Hyde” Legends Santa Fe. 2012. http://legendssantafe.com/Artist-Info.cfm?ArtistsID=487&Object=#Bio
Legends Santa Fe provides the artist’s background, list of accomplishments and degrees, including his artwork and exhibition.
Hyde, Frank Buffalo “ Contemporary Art in Russia” Ekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts. 2012. http://nativeartinrussia.webs.com/frankbuffalohyde.htm
The website provides insight of the exhibition showcase in Russia. Provides images and educational context of exhibition.
Hyde, Frank Buffalo “Frank Buffalo Hyde”. 2012. http://frankbuffalohyde.com
The website presents the artist’s biography, selected exhibitions, publications and educational history.