A young, emerging Oklahoma artist is bringing a contemporary aesthetic to traditional Choctaw imagery.
Most recently, “Legacy,” by Dylan Cavin, 36, of Norman, was featured on the official 2013 Red Earth Festival T-shirts, posters and billboards.
The graphic and bold image is of a Sioux chief Cavin painted last summer.
A member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Cavin will be the featured artist at Choctaw Days at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
The event, Friday and Saturday, is designed to provide a Choctaw Nation cultural experience to thousands of visitors.
“It's an important event for the Choctaw population and the Choctaw people in general,” said Bret Moss, media specialist for the Choctaw Nation. “A lot of their ways, their traditions may not be known by anyone outside of the nation. It's a great way to showcase what it is to be Choctaw.”
There are more than 200,000 members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, said a representative. About 40,000 members live in Oklahoma; others live in various bands or tribes in states such as California and Mississippi. About 1,000 members reside in Washington, D.C., and many will attend the event, Moss said.
What it is to be Choctaw
For Cavin, what it is to be Choctaw is emerging along with his art career.
As a young artist, it was a drawing of the Statue of Liberty in middle school that first won the Chickasha native attention.
Comic books held his interest during adolescence. The works of Walt Simonson got him hooked on collecting comic books, and art lessons soon followed. Today, one of Cavin's favorites of his own paintings is a black-and-white portrait of a mustached C.A. Burris. The painting, Cavin said, was done in the style of Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy.
“I really love it because he's one of my favorite comic book artists and has a really, really distinct style. In my mind I nailed his style with that painting,” Cavin said.
The painting is representative, however, of how Cavin's art leans more toward fine art than comic book art. Cavin favors acrylic and gouache paints on canvas, and ink and some watercolors on mediums such as antique ledger papers and pages from old books. His canvases for ink even include skin — he's done many of his own tattoos.
Inspirations and muses
Evident in his work is Cavin's education and professional experience in graphic art and his admiration for graphic designers and illustrators such as Shepard Fairey, who designed the iconic “Hope” poster of Barack Obama, among other campaign designs.
But most obvious is Cavin's esteem for his Choctaw heritage, and his yearning to explore and learn more about it.
“Having the opportunity to show and do more cultural and heritage awareness, and for me being able to do research within a painting, kind of helps me learn more about my cultural and heritage,” he said.
“I do kind of feel like I am representing my tribe in this event so, yes that's pretty special to me. Especially for it to be in D.C. at the National Museum of the American Indian. That's pretty substantial.”
Often, Cavin finds himself diverted by a commissioned portrait of a patron's pet — his wife, Lindsay Cavin, is an animal lover and has many like-minded friends.
He likes the distraction, but his focus is clearly on bringing his American Indian visions to fruition and sharing them with others.
“More than anything is, for me, it's to learn more but then also to show people that when they think of Native American art, there are contemporary and modern artists out there that are associating what they see in everyday life and art and relaying that into their work,” Cavin said.