Michael Snow
Clothed Woman (In Memory of my Father) 1963
oil and lucite on canvas
152 x 386.2 cm
Purchased 1966
National Gallery of Canada

Robert Davidson: The intersection of contemporary art and Haida tradition

Ottawa - February 1, 2007

The National Gallery of Canada, in conjunction with the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, presents from 2 February until 6 May 2007, Robert Davidson: The Abstract Edge, an exhibition dedicated to the work of this contemporary Haida artist. This exhibition is presented by Bombardier.

Captivated by the vocabulary of shapes used in traditional Haida art, Davidson has developed a style that is situated between Western abstraction and the artistic tradition of his roots. This exhibition follows the last 20 years of Davidson's progression towards abstraction. There are 30 of the artist's works on display, including works on canvas, paper, and deerskin; as well as 19th Century cedar objects from the Northwest Coast such as bentwood boxes and a paddle, bearing painted designs that illustrate characteristics of Haida abstraction. Throughout his work, Robert Davidson reveals himself as an artist with multiple talents: a master carver of totem poles and masks; a painter, jeweller, and engraver; and an argillite and metal sculptor.

"In Robert Davidson's works, contemporary shapes meet the splendid aesthetic and philosophical Haida tradition. Davidson's versatility and his great skill with various mediums make him one of the most popular contemporary Haida artists in Canada. Davidson built a new plastic language starting from traditional elements, thus pushing the Haida concepts and the Western abstraction towards new frontiers", explains Pierre Théberge, Director of the National Gallery of Canada.

Robert Davidson's work is founded on formal research and study of the visual vocabulary of Haida art. The works of Bill Holm, a scholar and artist who published Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form in 1965, inspired Davidson's research. Holm identified basic design principles in Haida art and created a vocabulary for their analysis; Davidson explored the "formline", the "ovoid", and the "U-form" in every aspect until he became a virtuoso of the line by using this visual lexicon to create a new pictorial language.

The work Killer Whale (2000) clearly illustrates Davidson's approach; he playfully presents the essential elements of the legendary marine mammal. The dorsal fin, fluked tail, and massive head are recognizable but disjointed, allowing for appreciation of Davidson's abstraction while maintaining the integrity of the art form, this in part through Davidson's use of the traditional black, white, red colours associated with Haida art. The cedar sculpture Ravenous (2003), also employs red and black colour, in this case to accentuate the carved forms of Raven bearing an eye in his beak. For Davidson, the mythological story of Raven's voracity became a symbol for current ecological degradation the plucked eye a metaphor for human shortsightedness.

"We are proud to contribute to the promotion of artist Robert Davidson. This exhibition celebrates innovation, one of the cornerstones of Bombardier's leadership attributes. Indeed, this artist constantly challenges himself to represent haida art in different ways. His works builds on the ancestral art that often incorporate animal figures in totem poles and masks. We wish this exhibition great success", declares Laurent Beaudoin, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Bombardier Inc.

Activities and credits
On Friday, 2 February at 12:15 pm, the artist will give a guided tour of the exhibition (free with exhibition admission) and on Saturday, 3 February at 2 pm, Robert Davidson and his group, The Rainbow Creek Dancers, will perform in the Auditorium of the National Gallery of Canada (free admission).

In conjunction with Winterlude and as part of the "Esso Family Fundays", visitors are invited to an outdoor sculpture workshop. Then, they can warm up inside with hot chocolate and listen to lively music while designing a sun catcher inspired by Davidson's work. Free with exhibition admission.

An illustrated catalogue with essays written by Karen Duffek and Robert Houle is available in French and in English at the National Gallery of Canada Bookstore. To complement you visit a Bell audioguide is offered in French and in English.

The exhibition Robert Davidson: The Abstract Edge is organized by the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia and circulated by The National Gallery of Canada. The exhibition was first shown at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in 2004-2005, then in 2005-2006, travelled to the Kelowna Art Gallery, in British Colombia; the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario; and recently the McCord Museum in Montreal, Québec.

The National Gallery of Canada wishes to thank Bombardier and the exhibition's media partners, namely La Télévision de Radio-Canada, CBC TV, Le Droit, and The Ottawa Citizen.

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