Frank Buffalo Hyde grew up surrounded by traditional Native American art. He had artists on both sides of his family and his parents met at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). From an early age, however, Hyde knew he wanted to make his own mark.
When he did eventually decide to embrace the visual art world — after playing in a rock band and trying his hand at writing — it was with the overt intention of making his audience think twice about the way they see Native Americans. Case in point: Hyde called his first show at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art Ladies and Gentlemen, This Is the Buffalo Show and filled it not only with his namesake animals, but with buffalo soldiers, the character Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs, and an image of buffalo wings.
Hyde’s satirical, pop-culture-soaked, take-no-prisoners approach puts him in a unique place among Native artists. He has called out celebrities like Gwen Stefani for wearing feathers and depicted traditional ceremonies complete with a row of mobile phones caught in the act of documenting — or perhaps stealing — the dancers’ images. He knows his work will make some audience members uncomfortable. In fact, he hopes it does.
In the Meta series, a group of paintings Hyde developed as an artist in residence at Art Ventures Napa Valley Studio over the summer of 2017 — he layers symbols of traditional Native American culture with symbols of modern technology. A Native chief wears a virtual reality headset, drones carry single feathers, and a human skull appears on a mobile phone held up by a selfie stick. The latter is a comment on the rising number of injuries and deaths that have occurred in Yellowstone National Park when tourists get too close to wild animals for the sake of photographs, and the way digital reality often gets in the way of our innate awareness in nature. At the Art Ventures residence Hyde was free to explore new ideas. He engaged with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s infamous Untitled series — after rejecting an earlier comparison to the artist in art school. In Red Head, Hyde responded Basquiat in an exploration of the parallels between the treatment of Native Americans and African Americans in contemporary America.
In recent years, the Santa Fe-based artist’s work has been growing in size. Hyde’s Meta paintings measure 48 x 36 and many compile a grid of multiple images that speak to one another as if in a kind of ongoing conversation. The wide-open canvases present his with a more physical experience and a painter and they’ve also had a liberating effect on Hyde’s work and he often uses the space to reflect on consumerism and commodification.
He taps into the collective unconsciousness of the 21st century by boldly combining images from advertisement, movies, television, music, and politics in hopes of mimicking the way the mind holds information: nonlinear and without separation.
It’s an active, curious way to engage with a canvas, and it appears to be working for Hyde, as he goes about trying to make sense of the current moment for his audience.
“We not only live in a fast food society, but we want our culture to be easily digested and available,” says Hyde. “Information is sent around the world and shared at a higher rate than ever before. Sex is a commodity, culture is a commodity, technology is a commodity. Now, more than ever, painting is alive!”
Hyde’s Meta series, along with several older works including Buffalo Burger Study will be on display in Art Ventures Gallery in Silicon Valley beginning October 27th.