By Kathaleen Roberts / Journal Staff Writer on Fri, Apr 20, 2012
Frank Buffalo Hyde grew up on the Onondaga Reservation watching a bustling herd of bison in a field known as the tribal make-out spot.
When Hyde was a teenager, members spoke about the area with a wink and a knowing smirk.
But the beasts made a strong impression on the budding artist.
I remember how huge and powerful and fast and agile they are, the artist said from his Santa Fe home studio.
To honor that memory, as well as the grandparent who gave him his middle name, Hyde is opening From Bison to Buffalo Wings: Frank Buffalo Hyde Celebrates the Beast at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.
Inspired by the animal as an icon, deity, logo, messenger and witness, Hyde explores this powerful symbol in a series of new paintings and mixed-media sculptures. From near extinction at the turn of the last century to a popular (and healthy) beef alternative in this millennium carouseling to Buffalo Bill and buffalo wings, Hyde moved from his customary 30-inch base to large acrylic portraits, imbued with his own sly humor.
Buffalo Bill No. 2″ depicts the serial killer from Silence of the Lambs, a pop culture image miles away from the stereotypical thundering herd on the plains. Buffalo Hyde pairs the winged image with a gold buffalo nickel stamped with the hackneyed noble savage, complete with feathers and braids.
This represents America in all its frailty and wanting to be accepted, he said.
Buffalo Bill No. 1″ shows the Wild West figure in full regalia. The Buffalo Bills football logo offers an ironic counterpoint leaping over a plate of buffalo wings.
Everyone reveres him, Hyde said of the Wild West showman. But Native Americans dont always see him that way. He was sort of an opportunist. He exterminated the buffalo. Hed take (hunting) parties and kill up to 300.
The artists painting of a buffalo burger features the entire animal from head to tail sandwiched between both bun halves and the usual condiments. Friends had chided him for past depictions that resembled ordinary hamburgers.
I made it very clear in this piece that it represented buffalo meat, he said. It speaks well to our culture how we want instant gratification.
A cottony skyscape with a partially turned buffalo head grew from a residency at the Institute of American Indian Arts last year. New Mexicos turquoise skies have invaded local galleries to the point of cliché, Buffalo Hyde acknowledged.
Instead, he portrayed his childhood buffalo field with a flying saucer hovering over the Cartman character from South Park.
I put the mother ship in there because it could be present-day; it could be 500 years in the future, Hyde said. The ship also serves as a reference for the notorious South Park episode involving anal probes.
Sometimes you have to push what people expect of a Native American artist, he explained. They want things to be sweet and pretty and saccharin to relieve their guilt.
A portrait of a buffalo soldier references both the historic role of African Americans in the West, as well as the Bob Marley song, Buffalo Hyde added.
We used to sing it over and over because of my name.
While the commercial market might cry out for a style more reflective of feathers and fringe, Hyde refuses to be typecast as a Native artist. His influences were Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as Matisse.
His father, famed sculptor Doug Hyde, showed him the business of becoming an artist. He grew up on gallery openings.
He is to this day a down-to-earth person despite that fame, his son said. He does everything with respect.
I chose to differentiate myself from (sculpture). I didnt need to copy him or glean off his hard work.
Today Hydes work hangs in the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, the collections of Amy Ray and Emily Sailors, Sherman Alexie and Wes Studi, as well as Bruce King and Mateo Romero. His work can be found in Santa Fes Legends Gallery.
If you go
WHAT: From Bison to Buffalo Wings, Artist Frank Buffalo Hyde Celebrates the Beast
WHEN: Through July 31
WHERE: Museum of Contemporary Native Arts
, 108 Cathedral Place
COST: $10 general; $5 seniors (62+), students and New Mexico residents. Free to members, Native people, veterans and their families.
CONTACT: 983-1666 or see www.iaia.edu/museum