About

Richard Ray Whitman is a Yuchi-Muscogee/Creek artist, poet, actor and activist.

His creative visual art has been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the US and his photography has been used in textbooks and historical compilations.

He has appeared in numerous feature films and documentaries. See the filmography on this site more information.

Richard grew up in Gypsy, Oklahoma, where he  learned Yuchi as his first language. His maternal grandmother Polly Long raised Richard Polly Long - RRW 1969 cropand his brothers, taught them how to speak their native language and helped to instruct them in the ways of the Yuchi people. That cultural foundation remains at the heart of Richard’s work. It is a particular way of observing the world.

 

“I was born of the Yuchi people (TsoYaHa) and my perceptions and expressions emerged from the core of this identity. My mother, grandmother and extended family were my most immediate teachers, informing my basic knowledge of the world and shaping my aesthetic sensibilities.”

As a young person in small-town Oklahoma, the dream of becoming an artist had seemed remote – until a magazine article inspired him to apply to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM. Life mag Red ManThe 1967 Life Magazine heralded the “Return of the Red Man,” and the cover featured psychedelic pop art over-layered with an 1884 photograph of Arapaho chief Sharp Nose. The article included a section about the new art school in Santa Fe. “I’d read the magazine during one of my many visits to the principal’s office,” Richard says, “and before that moment I’d never imagined a career as an artist – had never imagined as a struggling Indian student that I might find my direction in life through art.”

Richard’s brother George was fighting in Viet Nam when Richard first rode a Greyhound bus to Santa Fe where he’d been accepted as a student. At that pivotal moment in history, in the mix of students and instructors from dozens of tribes, Richard began to consider the role of the artist as activist – of his obligation to speak out through his work. He developed a style rich with layering and texture in content, as well as form.

“My work is a layering of cultural, political and aesthetic ideas which are always changing and evolving, just as my own identity and the identity/identities of Indian people have always evolved and changed. As an artist, I am always consciously re-positioning my approach to my work to encompass broader concepts in contemporary art and to experiment with new technologies, materials and art forms.”

Richard Whitman People themselves - web

Richard has enjoyed a long career as an artist and photographer, showing his work at museums and galleries worldwide, including exhibits at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and La Biennale di Venezia in Italy.

“My impulse is to be innovative, to draw inspiration not only from my own culture but from transnational flows of culture on a global scale – to find understanding and commonalities in diverse cultural sources that speak to me individually as a Yuchi man. I’m always looking for sparks of brilliance in world art, music, literature, films, advertisements, inadvertent juxtapositions – anywhere they might turn up – sparks that arrest my attention and shake me out of complacency – sparks to interpret through my art to expand and amplify my own visions and philosophy.”

Throughout his career, Richard has continued to explore themes concerning “the disconnect” between reality and popular stereotypes of Indian culture – of ways that historical trauma plays out in social ills / juxtaposed with symbols of healing and family that focus on the strength and perseverance of Indian people in the present world and connections with traditions.

OK in OK - web

Richard’s artwork has been published magazines including Native Peoples and American Indian Art, and featured in books including Aperture’s Strong Hearts and the Oxford University Press college textbook Native North American Art. He has also worked as an Artist in Residence with the Oklahoma Arts Council, teaching art in public and alternative schools. He taught art through the Indian Youth Council and the youth at risk program at the Native American Center in Oklahoma City, and has worked with youthful offenders, teaching art as rehabilitative therapy as a visiting artist in several state corrections institutions.

And he is also an accomplished actor and filmmaker. Richard’s first role on camera was in the Institute of American Indian Arts 1969 production “Red Reflections.” Since then, he’s appeared in “War Party,” “Lakota Woman,” “The Only Good Indian,” “American Indian Graffiti,” “Four Sheets to the Wind” and other films. He played the lead role in the acclaimed independent film “Barking Water,” and was featured in the PBS TV series “We Shall Remain,” about the 1973 American Indian Movement occupation of Wounded Knee, SD. He also appears in the 2013 film “Winter in the Blood,” based on the novel by Blackfeet author James Welch, and the upcoming Sundance Institute sponsored film “Drunktown’s Finest.”

Richard is a member of the Yuchi Tribe, enrolled with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. He is the father of five children and now has eleven grandchildren.

 

 

 

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