Steven Paul Judd is blazing a new trail for Native American artists. After working as a TV writer in Los Angeles, he set out on a path to make art that he couldn’t find anywhere else. His art school was YouTube tutorials and endless hours spent tinkering in Photoshop. This autodidactic approach quickly launched Judd’s name into the street art pantheon, while simultaneously highlighting the untold stories of Indian Country.
Born of Kiowa and Choctaw roots in Oklahoma, Judd’s work often riffs on iconic imagery — allowing Native Americans a chance to reclaim ownership of their cultural icons for the first time in hundreds of years. Alley murals of war paint cans, Plains Indian chiefs rocking out with boom boxes, and teepees that are “not for rent” remind us that there’s a whole side of America that’s most often ignored or grotesquely represented in caricatures. As collectors clamor for his pieces, Judd is also drawing native culture into the mainstream, and reminding the gatekeepers of the importance of Native American voices.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Judd to chat about tagging, murals, life in Indian Country, and the power of social media to shed light on worthy street artists.
Where does your path as an artist begin?
When I was in second grade I was in an art contest. You had to draw your favorite book cover. I ended up winning that contest, but I think it’s because maybe my mom knew the teacher or something. I don’t know, because how well do you draw in the second grade, right? But that teacher told me that I was a good artist, and I won first place. So I believed her and I started drawing all the time. I think I just got better because of that.
Conversely, when I was in high school, I really wasn’t catching on at geometry. I remember getting stood up and embarrassed in class by the teacher for not knowing something. That blocked my head. I couldn’t do math after that. Then I had to take three tours of duty in intermediate algebra in college. That started me thinking that if you tell someone they’re good at something, they’re going to believe it.
When did you start to seriously consider a career in art?
For a while I had a job as a writer on a TV show for Disney XD. When that ended, I came back home to Oklahoma and I was looking for some art and there really wasn’t anything that I was drawn to. I was more into pop art, but I also wanted something with a native vibe to it. Since I didn’t see anything like that, I started making my own.