Julie Buffalohead: Noble Coyotes
November 10-December 23, 2022
Jessica Silverman is pleased to announce Julie Buffalohead’s solo exhibition, “Noble Coyotes,” the artist’s first with the gallery and in San Francisco, on view from November 10 to January 7, 2023. The exhibition includes 7 oil paintings on canvas and 9 ink drawings on handmade watercolor paper that explore memory, childhood and mothering. With metaphor and humor, Buffalohead’s visual narratives are enacted by a cast of animals— a coyote, rabbit and muskrat— who are imbued with agency and personhood.
The largest work in the exhibition, All Are Welcome, (2022) hosts a seemingly festive duality between whimsy and conflict. A group of ermine gated inside a miniature picket fence hold signs stating, “Private community, no trespassing” and “All are welcome here.” An approaching fox cuts off his own tail as an offering to the ermine, while a racoon and a couple of spirit-rabbits appear confounded as to what consequence this sacrifice entails. The work, which was conceived after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, examines notions of inclusiveness, through the reinterpretation of common yard signs in the region.
Two paintings in the exhibition consider type-cast cliches of Nativeness through the artist’s wry and ineffable humor. In The Noble Savage (2022), a conjured vision of the archetypal noble savage appears rendered in outline against a background of gestural pink brushwork. The figure is offered trinkets—strings of beads and snakes—by a cadre of otters. Standing opposite is the trickster coyote in a red dress and high heels. With arms crossed the coyote casts doubt upon the proceedings, begging questions of representation and ideas of Native mystique.
As a counterpart, Antihero (2022), features a coyote wearing a comedic arrow-through-the-head prop hat and riding a toy rocking horse. Rearing back, arrows splinter beneath the horse and the coyote flagrantly offers a headdress to an unlikely grouping of North American animals.
Demonstrating the artist’s command of color and space, painterly figures are suspended in jewel-toned compositions that suggest a kind of intimacy in which no hierarchy exists between background and foreground. In Isle of Dogs (2022), an expanse of teal brushwork holds an elderly mother lying on her side among a family of resting dogs. A muskrat, who is a hero in Ojibwe stories for gathering earth to formulate the world, brushes the woman’s hair. This gesture of mothering the mother considers kinship within the context of a creation narrative.
Notions of nostalgia and childhood are distilled together with contemporary culture in Buffalohead’s pen and ink-wash drawings. In Monopoly (2022), an otter examines the classic boardgame, while a coyote and badger sit in a cardboard Amazon delivery box, setting sail a make-believe ship and drawing reference to another kind of monopoly.
In all the works, witty and whimsical scenes explore ideas of duality and contradiction with animals as stand-ins for humans, but also, creatures from whom humans can learn. As Buffalohead says, “I’m always waiting for animals to talk again.”
Julie Buffalohead (b. 1972, Minneapolis, MN) received her BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1995 and her MFA from Cornell University in 2001. She is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, Lillian Orlowsky and William Freed Grant, Guggenheim Fellowship, Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant, and the McKnight Foundation Fellowship for Visual Arts. She has had solo exhibitions at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Denver Art Museum; Highpoint Center for Printmaking, Minneapolis; the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Santa Fe, NM; and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C. Her work is in the collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Walker Art Center, MN; Denver Art Museum; Davis Museum, Wellesley, MA; Field Museum, Chicago; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO; Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis, IN; Detroit Institute of Arts, MI; Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Greensboro; Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT; among others. Buffalohead is a member of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma. She lives and works in St. Paul, MN.