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R O B E R T D A V I D S O N: THINKING ABSTRACT

presented by stonington gallery


r obert davidson, a mind at work Robert Davidson’s artistic development has been a story of balance. He has sought the equidistant place that lies between his passion for reconnecting with his ancestors’ knowledge, and his desire to tell his individual story. The vocabulary Davidson works with comes from the rich legacy left behind by his Haida forebears, namely the art of his great-grandfather, Charles Edenshaw. Discovering this master’s work in the museums in Vancouver, BC stoked a fire in Davidson to learn the formal and aesthetic standards of the cultural art and set a bar to which he could aspire. Conversations and explorations with artists from older generations formed the rich, solid ground on which Davidson’s artistic education would be built, and from which later exploration could develop. Davidson grew up in the village of Old Massett on the Haida Gwaii islands off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. It was in the workshops of part-time argillite carvers where he became versed in the twodimensional formline design of the Haida people, maintaining a living connection to ancient knowledge by way of his father, Charles Davidson, and his tsinii (grandfather), Robert Davidson Sr. Davidson remembers a profound conversation with renowned Kwakwaka’wakw artist Douglas Cranmer who introduced him to the possibilities of the ovoid shape—the foundational component upon which Northwest Coast art is based. Cranmer was an early practitioner of abstracting formline and exposed Davidson to new and adventurous ways of working within the vernacular. In Northwest Coast art, each shape has a traditional role to play. Lines and shapes lock together, bounding fields of color into negative and positive spaces, resulting in complex, detailed images. Davidson’s abstract works are masterpieces of strategy: his crescent shapes direct and control the flow of energy; his tri-negs (trapezoidal in shape) redirect the viewer’s eye and bounce our attention to different corners like pinball bumpers; and the negative spaces make us conscious of the relationship between fields and colors.


Even as Davidson’s works enter the realm of extreme abstraction, he continues to honor those traditional roles of line, shape, and relational space—he does not break the rules. This is an important point to make. I recall an evening when Davidson was lecturing at our gallery and scholar Bill Holm rose to his feet to passionately remind the audience that even though Davidson’s works are groundbreaking in their style and seem every inch the modern composition, every line and shape are within the canon of tradition and absolutely proper. This brilliant, conscious directing of energy can only be compared to music, to the conductor who holds everything in tight control, yet allows enough space for everything to meet in harmony. I have had the pleasure and honor of working with Robert over the last two decades at Stonington Gallery, and I have found that only music allows me the vocabulary to truly articulate what I feel when I see his abstracts. When I look at these works, I hear Miles Davis. Davis’s “The Birth of Cool” is the distillation of music down to the brilliant potential in each note. A note played by Miles Davis has a life force that is physically and emotionally transportive. Robert Davidson’s ovoids hold this same tension, energy, and power. Looking at the body of work shown in Thinking Abstract is to witness an artist deeply engaged in conveying the fullest potential of each shape, color and line. It is to see a progression of ideas—the slow evolution of a mind that focuses on concepts like a high-powered spotlight. Davidson’s development from traditional carver and jeweler to an artist who is taking risks and transforming how we understand contemporary Native art is perhaps unsurprising to those who have met him. He exhibits an unyielding passion to master the essence of the artform, a discipline and thoughtfulness that carries into each of his works. The lessons Davidson learned from Edenshaw and his family members, from traditional artists on Haida Gwaii, from the current environment around him, and those that have been unearthed from inside himself have been blended into a balanced, masterful vision unlike any other in contemporary art. -stonington gallery co-director rebecca blanchard, 2013


All artworks in this catalog are available to purchase. Please contact the gallery with questions and for more information. Commission consultation available.

Stonington Gallery 125 South Jackson Street Seattle, WA 98104 Located in Historic Pioneer Square in Downtown Seattle 206.405.4040 art@stoningtongallery.com www.stoningtongallery.com Monday-Friday 10am-6pm Saturday 10am-5:30pm Sunday 12pm-5pm

Catalog Š Stonington Gallery 2013. All works by Robert Davidson. Select photography by Ashley Genevieve, all other photography courtesy of Eagle of the Dawn Artist Ltd. Catalog design and additional text by Sarra Scherb.


SCULPTURE “You don’t just look at it. You have to look down the front, you have to turn it on its side, and when you’re doing that, you’re making sure all the planes are in relation to other planes, like each line is a reflection of another. Each plane is a reflection of another plane... To combine these principles takes years and years of practice, but when they are working together... there is much positive energy.” -Robert Davidson, 2012.

Excerpted from Robert Davidson: Abstract Impulse, published 2013 by University of Washington Press.

eagle #1/12 (2013) limited edition powder-coated aluminum on granite base | 25.6” l x 10.5” h x 5.75” d | $7,000 CAD


eagle’s call #1/12 (2013)

limited edition powder-coated aluminum on granite Base | 16.75”l x 15”h x 6.75”d | $7,000 cad


Bird In The Air.... #1/12 (2013) limited edition powder-coated aluminum on granite base | 17.5”l x 11”h x 7.25”d | $7,500 cad


Salmon Trout Head two limited edition powder-coated aluminum on granite base | 13.5”L x 5.75”w x 10”h | $7,500 CAD


T’samuus (sea monster) (2009) limited edition powder-coated aluminum on granite base | 18”h x 5.75”w x 3.5”d | $7,000 cad


SERIGRAPHS “I’m at a crossroads right now where I’ve recycled the ideas of my teachers, of the old pieces, of the old examples I’ve been studying. My challenge is to go beyond those recycled ideas and create a new vocabulary for myself.” -Robert Davidson, 2004

Davidson has used the medium of the limited edition serigraph to express his thoughts in color and line since the 1960s. In the beginning, he created works based on traditional crest imagery that were destined for reproduction in silkscreen, but in the 1980s he became inspired to explore painting on canvas. He found a spontaneity in painting that had been absent from carving or printmaking, and he could see “a dramatic change in my work from this point to the present.” Today, Davidson paints on canvas and selects paintings from which to create limited edition serigraphs. This exhibition presents serigraphs from the artist’s personal archive of prints from the 1970s - 2010s, and debuts his 2013 print, U And Eye (at right). Continuing his exploration of negative and positive spaces, his signature tri-neg form, and bold color, U And Eye shows a void populated by elegant, sweeping formline. Davidson has stated his desire to “paint only one line and have it be Haida art.” With this work he draws ever closer to that pinnacle. Quotes from Robert Davidson: The Abstract Edge published 2004 by Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia and Robert Davidson: Abstract Impulse published 2013 by University of Washington.

u and eye (Nov 7, 2013) Limited edition serigraph 40.25”h x 30.25”w | $2,100 cad


SHADOWS (2010) Limited edition serigraph 40”h x 29.88”w | $3,600 cad


southeast wind (2004) Limited edition serigraph 39.88” h x 26.5”w | $5,000 cad


watchman (2011) Limited edition serigraph 40”h x 30”w | $1,800 cad Available to order

fast bird (2011) Limited edition serigraph 40”h x 30”w | $1,800 cad


two-finned killerwhale (1979) Limited edition serigraph 25.75�h x 32.63�w $2,400 framed


killer whale (2004) Limited edition serigraph 29.75�h x 39.75�w | $4,000 cad


“When I’m drawing I’m playing with space...playing with the balance of positive and negative and the proportion of negative to positive...

I always felt that the positive space was the important thing,

entitlement (2006) Limited edition serigraph 21”h x 29.5”w | $2,400 cad


but as I developed as an artist and a person, I started realizing how important those negative spaces were. Whenever you create a space, you create another space.” -Robert Davidson

Occupied (2007) Limited edition serigraph 30”h x 35.5”w | $4,000 cad


grizzly bear (2009) Limited edition serigraph 26.63”h x 39.88”w | $3,600 cad


put your complaints ‘ere (2002) Limited edition serigraph 34.25”h x 24.25”w | $1,200 cad


Split u (2006) Limited edition serigraph 30”h x 40.25”w | $3,000 cad

halibut, halibut, halibut (2001) Limited edition serigraph 42.75”h x 30.38”w | $1,500 cad


SGAAN SGANWEE (2002) Limited edition serigraph 19.75”h x 20.5”w | $700 cad

looking at asymmetry (2002) Limited edition serigraph 40.5” h x 14”w | $2,200 cad


sea monster (1976) limited edition serigraph 30�h x 35.5�w | $1,000 cad


i am you and you are me (2008) Limited edition serigraph 28”h x 15”w | $800 cad


T’samuus (Sea Monster) (2002) Limited edition serigraph 12.5”h x 28”w | $1,000 cad


wiid (warbler) (2002) Limited edition serigraph 8.5”h x 22.5”w | $1,000 cad


beaver (1972) Limited edition serigraph 2.5”h x 18”w | $1,500 cad


wolf (1977) Limited edition serigraph 2.5”h x 18”w | $1,500 cad


about the artist Acknowledged as one of Canada’s premiere contemporary artists, Robert Davidson (Haida name guud san glans, or “Eagle of the Dawn”) uses the ancient formline design of the Haida people to create truly modern works. Davidson has been a key figure in the Northwest Coast Native art renaissance. His great grandfather was the famed Haida artist Charles Edenshaw (1839-1924) whose iconic works were produced throughout the era when Native arts, languages and ceremonies were silenced by the Canadian government. Edenshaw is recognized by many scholars as one of the finest traditional artists in modern history, and is honored in a comprehensive exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, concomitant with Davidson’s Seattle Art Museum exhibit, Abstract Impulse. Davidson has taken up his ancestor’s mantle in the current era and boldly pushed tradition in a new direction. Davidson learned the foundations of traditional Haida art and design by studying the works of Charles Edenshaw, legendary Haida artist Bill Reid and others. He worked within those traditions for the first fifty years of his career, creating masterful masks, totem poles and prints that became instant touchstones. In 1969, Davidson was responsible for raising the first new totem pole in the Haida Gwaii Islands since the 1890s, as the act of raising a pole was banned by the Canadian government. This “innocent gesture,” as Davidson has called it, helped to usher in a new era of vitality for Haida and Native artwork and culture across Canada and the United States.


Once he mastered the vocabulary of the artform with traditional works, he felt it was time to experiment, expand and contribute new definitions of what Haida and Northwest Coast artwork could be. Therefore, using his knowledge of traditional design and seeking a new form of expression, in the late 1990s Davidson took a turn towards extreme abstraction. Using line, color and void to connote the forms of iconic mythic characters, these powerful statements in paint and metal combine tradition and modern aesthetics. The artist lives and works near Vancouver, BC, and his works reside in multiple museum, municipal and private collections around the world. His works have been collected into multiple solo publications, and featured in many anthologies about Canadian and Native art. Works on canvas, paper, wood and metal have traveled in a number of solo and group exhibitions around North America, including Eagle of the Dawn (opened 1994 at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC), Robert Davidson: The Abstract Edge (opened 2004 at Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC), Raven Travelling—Two Centuries of Haida Art (opened 2006 Vancouver Art Gallery), and Eagle Transforming: The Prints of Robert Davidson (opened 2010, Vancouver Art Gallery).


stonington gallery 2013 downtown seattle, wa www.stoningtongallery.com 206.405.4040

Robert Davidson - Thinking Abstract - Stonington Gallery  

Exhibit Catalog - Nov 2013 - Stonington Gallery, Seattle.

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