Dylan Cavin: Bold in Life, Bold in Art

Dylan Cavin (b. Chickasha, Oklahoma, 1978) has never been afraid of making bold decisions. Not in his life, nor his art.

He joined the Army in his late 20s in 2006, not long before the cutoff age to enlist. He picked up tattooing when it was still illegal in Oklahoma, practicing on friends.

His artwork is no less daring.

Singular figures inspired by his Choctaw heritage and Oklahoma upbringing fill the picture plane of his mixed media compositions. Set against abstracted backgrounds, they take on a dramatic, timeless gravity.

From Graphic Design to Fine Art

Cavin describes himself as an “art kid” growing up. Like countless other artists, he was fascinated by comics in his youth with his personal art making starting by mimicking their figures and designs.

His talent was recognized early, winning an art contest in middle school. He’d later attend the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma on an Art Talent scholarship where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree emphasizing graphic design. That led Cavin into a graphic design career, a career he became increasingly unsatisfied with.

Stuck in a meat-grinder design job and a bad personal relationship, Cavin joined the Army to break free from the cycle. He wanted to learn welding to begin a new career after his service.

Cavin’s time with Uncle Sam didn’t last long. He suffered a stress fracture in his leg weeks after enlisting and was honorably discharged following only nine months.

Back home in Norman, Oklahoma, he began dabbling again with watercolors and drawing, making portraits of friends and pets.

When a friend opened a tattoo parlor/art gallery, Cavin agreed to show his watercolors there. A few sold, encouraging him to keep with it.

Recognition

It wasn’t long before Cavin’s work began receiving prestigious acclaim.

2012 represented a breakout year.

First place in the “Graphics” category at the 2012 Chickasaw Nation Southeastern Art Show and Market. First place in the “Graphics” category at the 2012 Red Earth Festival in Oklahoma, City. Best in Show at the 2012 Choctaw Nation Labor Day Art Show. Participation in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian 2012 Art Market in New York. That year his work was also featured on the cover of “Oklahoma Today” magazine’s “Indian Country” issue.

Most recently, he was highlighted in the June/July 2021 edition of “Southwest Art” magazine and finished up two large commissions for the Choctaw Casino in Durant, OK.

Reconnecting

Cavin is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation, but his connection to that heritage was not always as strong as it is now. Growing up, Native traditions weren’t a big part of his life. He’s trying to change that by becoming more involved with Choctaw culture, researching his family, developing that relationship.

Source imagery for his portraits, which had previously come from historic photos, increasingly comes from photographs he shoots of his niece and friends. Cavin now prefers creating from a personal connection with his subjects.

Wyld Gallery in Austin, TX deals exclusively in contemporary Native American artwork.
Wyld Gallery in Austin, TX deals exclusively in contemporary Native American artwork.

Collecting Native American Art

When I look at Dylan Cavin’s artwork, I see references to the great John Nieto, one of my favorite painters. Nieto, who was part Apache, similarly painted vibrantly colored singular Native figures and wildlife against abstract backgrounds. Cavin says his introduction to Nieto’s work came through another local Oklahoma artist who’s made a big splash on the contemporary Native art scene, Brent Learned.

Cavin’s artwork, however, is not derivative of either. He works in a lower key, incorporating more earth tones. His pictures have a solemnity the others don’t; more graphic, more detailed, finer lines. Increasingly, he’s been working on ledger paper, adding more graphic details to his images.

While Cavin still keeps a full-time graphic design job, it’s a traditional 9-to-5, allowing him to spend as many as 20 hours a week working on his art practice. That’s great news for collectors who can find his work at Wyld Gallery among a roster of dynamic contemporary Native painters.

The most exciting Western painting today comes from indigenous artists. They have the stories to share. They have the histories and cultural traditions which are most relevant to how a new, more sustainable, equitable, humane American society must be created.

Theirs is the artwork with soul, with spirit. They are the artists with something meaningful to say.

Dylan Cavin stands among them as an important voice.

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