Choctaw Nation
This buffalo painting is one of Dylan Cavin's.

Video: Choctaw Artist Dylan Cavin Shares the Story of His Art

Brandon Frye/Choctaw Nation

Dylan Cavin is a multimedia Choctaw artist who portrays Native and Oklahoma-oriented subjects in his work in unexpected ways. He says he first learned to appreciate art as a child reading comic books, finding himself drawn to particular illustrators and noticing their unique methods.

“It got me to draw the same pictures, put things on paper, and start falling in love with the way a pencil stroke looked,” Cavin said. “That lead to me seeing other artists’ signature styles, what made them stand out, and that made me love the art even more.”

He carried this sentiment over to the way he views his own art now, as a journey of self-exploration.

“Artwork is the journey of finding yourself, and what comes out is a signature,” he said. “I see my art as a progression in finding that signature in myself. I don’t feel like I’m there yet, and for me, that’s one of the bigger parts of being an artist, never quite being satisfied and always pushing yourself.”

His journey took him from his childhood appreciation of comic books to winning awards in high school, and then on to receiving college scholarships and earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO). After graduating, he started working as a graphic designer, a career he has continued for 10 years.

“For me, it’s nice working the graphic design job and then coming home to work pencil, paper, paint brush, and canvas,” he said. “I work nine-to-five. After I get home, I will eat dinner with my wife, relax for a bit, then I usually have set aside time to work on whatever grabs me. It is really nice to come in and work with my hands.”

When he settles down to his studio, Cavin says his approach is very blue collar. He works, he puts in the time. He picks up whatever strikes him first, whether it’s working with pencil and paper, or getting some canvas out and working with acrylic paints “It is a process, you have to put the work in. I don’t necessarily know when the piece is done. Some pieces will sit in the studio for three, four, or six months. Other pieces take no time.”

Cavin said, in the comic book world, he can see the entire process that goes into the work, from the pencil to the inking to the actual painting of the cover. His own artistic method seems to mirror this hands-on, continuous process with multiple layers.

The result is a hybrid—an assortment of complimentary and active graphites, inks, paints—a mix of old and new visuals, purposefully designed by artist Dylan Cavin, often worked onto interesting backdrops such as notes, ledgers, and book pages. He works to control the design of his art, but Cavin also appreciates the uniqueness and unplanned expression of each piece.

“Art is something you can’t recreate. With the drips and washes you see in my work, I plan to do it, but I don’t know how it will come out. You can see brush strokes with a gradient you know you will never be able to do again. It is expression, putting in that work, finding that unexpected outcome,” Cavin said.

Cavin’s work often shows subjects important to the Choctaw Nation and its heritage, such as the buffalo and historical figures. It is part of his attempt to explore, in himself, what it means to be Choctaw, and what it means to be Oklahoman. He said he feels a responsibility to convey the feelings he gets from such subjects, and a desire to allow the viewer a connection with it.

“For me, the Native art really hits home for doing something that means Oklahoma to me. A lot of times I relate Native with myself, and that translates into what I find around me, whether it be a bison, or a longhorn, or the scissortail. That’s what comes out,” he said.

Looking forward, Cavin plans to keep pushing his work, showing his art at every possible venue. He said if he is not pushing himself, his art is not being seen. “If you are not there to talk about your work, then people aren’t going to be as interested about it,” he explained. “Once you are there and talking about it, it takes on a different story.”

Cavin’s artwork is currently on display around the Choctaw Nation. A scissortail flycatcher, made from paints on an old note, is even perched on the wall of the Biskinik offices. A collection of his work is for sale at the Choctaw Welcome Center in Colbert. His work is also spread across the state and globe. Tribes 131 in Norman has shown his artwork. He has had several pieces on display at the University of Oklahoma’s student union on the medical campus. Cavin has shipped artwork around Oklahoma, to Texas, and even to places like Moscow. He has shown art in New York and in Santa Fe. And USAO recently hosted Cavin’s one-man show at the Nesbitt Gallery in Chickasha.

“Doing Native art, especially within the Choctaw Nation, it has almost opened up an extended family I didn’t necessarily know I had,” Cavin said. “But once you get out there and start showing, it’s a very warm crowd.”

Watch an interview with Cavin below:

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