February 3, 2017 – January 7, 2018
Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe
By altering technology humans alter their perceptions. By altering our perceptions we alter our minds, our thoughtways. Euro Medicine exploits aboriginal ethno-botanies. A true sacrament need not be an intoxicant, though by definition it must “intoxicate,” or cause the release of chemicals into the blood and brain that bring you into the permanent presence of awe, lets you meet your maker, as it were, or feel your place in the universal landscape: you and every other differentiated form breathing the same infinite spirit.
The original mind-altering sacrament technologies are music, dance, meditation, trance, and storytelling, usually around a glowing fire element. The Promethean acts that mark the human development of fire technologies are as significant as our standing up on two legs. Control of the light and heat elements of combustion, grasping lightning in your palm and going with the flow of electrons, produces nearly all your contemporary modes of transport and communication. The glowing screen reoccurs as a theme in Frank Buffalo Hyde’s show of new paintings, I-Witness Culture (February 3, 2017-January 7, 2018), flashing images of Buffalo and Eagle Dancers and other fragmented, overlapping, worlds we intake, defining our contemporary unity through our devotion to a new trinity: devices, dollars, and distraction. This is how we see now.
The body itself is a building on fire and the persistent subject of human artworks. Frank Buffalo Hyde’s brand/blend/bundle of Pop-Surrealism, graffiti, and most of all, gestural figuration puts him next in line to claim the legacy of postmodern Indian painters like Rick Bartow, T.C. Cannon, and the great Fritz Scholder, who have generously offered indigenous cultural awareness and expression to Santa Fe’s artworld and beyond. Buffalo Hyde is up to it again, in an exhibition that is as elegantly presented as the pictures are rough and tumble. A riotous pastiche quality that recalls Sigmar Polke and Neo Rauch rollicks in the variety of paint application, and an irreverence rivaling the best of Warhol or Francis Bacon (perfect reverence knows no reverence) bounces off the walls in eye-candy colors saturated in oh-so-subtle and/or slammed-home sardonic meanings. Buffalo Hyde’s eagle eye for irony means that the paintings themselves laugh in your inner ear with an arch and dark sense of humor. They go from droll guffaw, to tongue deep in cheek, to poking you in the eye in a matter of seconds. It can be discomfiting.
Zombie Nation is a killer picture and easily the best of the best paintings here. A righteously embittered elegy to the white man’s “vanishing Indians,” it shows the undead, the unvanquished, rising yet again. This could be the maimed aftermath of the Wounded Knee Massacre, or last month’s state-enforced NODAPL camp evacuation. A zombie everywhere is the recent fondest fear. (Don’t miss next year’s “Zombie Festival” in Las Cruces, wherein whole zombie families walk zombie dogs and lunge down Main Street, for example.) Buffalo Hyde’s application of the metaphor to American Indians is sublime, in the original sense of being frightfully beautiful, where beautiful is tied—à la Aristotle—to truth. Euro-Americans continue their monstrous and predatory sleepwalk obviously (the orange hare-brain lurches forward). One reading of this painting is that colonization is an infectious condition that destroys the mind, as it deprives people of humanity.
Buffalo Hyde’s eagle eye for irony means that the paintings themselves laugh in your inner ear with an arch and dark sense of humor.
Paint doesn’t lie, and Buffalo Hyde always pairs the paint to his point, suiting the application to the layered ironies he exposes. Here, the artist’s sympathy for the small horde emerging from their teepees, forever altered by the fire-driven technological disease of violent oppression that haunts all American psyches, produces figures painted in pure compassion, because, well, sleepwalking American monsters are us: maimed, every one, by the violence of war-profiteering, fossil fuel extraction, and the other forms of grand theft perpetrated by our corporate warlord Wall Street anarcho-oligarchs. History will wonder why we haven’t stopped them already. Will it be as sympathetic as the artist is here?
This is Frank Buffalo Hyde on the meta-Modern mesa’s edge, where irony oscillates into empathy. Zombie Nation belongs next to Turner’s great Slave Ship or Goya’s Saturn as a masterful indictment of a way of life that refuses to come to terms with its predatory past… or any undead future. And that’s just one painting. I-Witness Culture is Frank Buffalo Hyde at his most ferocious, as a satirist and chronicler of the nexus of indigenous cultures and the imploding mainstream corporate deal. The show is up through the first week of January 2018. Don’t miss it.