Friday, February 02, 2007

Stuff Seen - Robert Davidson


Killer Whale, 2000, acrylic on canvas, 76.2 x 101.6 cm, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Elvis Costello, © Robert Davidson, Photo: Kenji Nagai


It was about almost exactly one year ago that I made the trip to Ottawa, and was not particularly happy with what I saw at the National Gallery. Well, what a difference 365 days make. I'm actually planning on going back at the end of the month. I don't know who was responsible (although I would guess that it was Kitty Scott) for booking Mr. Davidson's exhibit called The Abstract Edge. But Good on ya!

I originally had seen the exhibit here in town at the McCord Museum, and been left completely and utterly slack jawed about it. So slack jawed in fact that I was unable to form any sort of coherent sentences other than "It's amazing!" So I did not write anything about it. But, now after seeing it again (and again, and again, and again) I'm still giddy as a 16 year-old school girl and still thoroughly in awe of what Mr. Davidson does.

Then to get all the rest of the silly stuff out of the way - I was quite surprised to discover that Diana Krall and Elvis Costello not only owned a painting by Mr. Davidson, but that they had loaned it out for the duration of the show. More so because I never really thought of either one of them as being art collectors, and that they would want to get the extra added media attention by having their names on the wall tag. Although I think it should have read just 'Diana Krall' as I assume that it was she who in fact bought it, and not him or them. Now if there could only be more indie hipsters who would follow their lead and buy art...

And then finally, just to completely show my utter lack of journalistic objectivity about Mr. Davidson's work - was able to get him to autograph my catalog, oh happy day!

Well, anyhows, my background on North West Coast art, Haida art or pretty much any type of aboriginal art from North America is nil, nada, nothing, or if you prefer, a big fat zero. However, I do have some awareness of Oceanic and African aboriginal art, and due to some confusion on my part, some of my preconceptions about the primitive stuff from a couple of hundred years ago leaks into my understanding and awareness of the civilized and contemporary stuff from from the geographic edges of Canada.

I keep coming at it thinking it is one large unified mass based on a shared geography and set of beliefs. Unfortunately I am just about 100% wrong. And in the same way that I wish that the fancy poster store in Old Montreal would not confuse things by incorporating the word Art into their name, I would also prefer the work that Mr. Davidson does didn't come within 50 miles of the word 'aboriginal.' In the same way that while David Altmejd's work is in fact Jewish Art, but he is not classified and categorized as a 'Jewish Artist.' I think I'd have a way easier time wrapping my head about and getting to understand Mr. Davidson's work if I was able to deal with it first as Contemporary Art, and then afterwards and only afterwards start bringing in the outside influences, sources and pedagogic material.

Diving in head first, the colors, and the lines are what attracted me first, and rivetted my attention throughout. Very swoopy stylized stuff, I prefer it when he works with a very restricted palate. I can understand the use of more than two colors, and also the need to work with more than two colors, but Mr. Davidson is a master PhD in black and red.

It doesn't matter what he makes, sculpture, painting, or what he makes it on, wood, aluminium, or deerskin the stuff rocks like nobody's business when there are only two colors. Check this:

Ravenous, 2003, red cedar and acrylic, 68.6 x 52.7 x 10.2 cm, Private Collection, Goderich, Ontario, © Robert Davidson, Photo: Kenji Nagai

check this:

Eagle Looking at Eagle, 1990, Collection of Robert Davidson, © Robert Davidson, Photo: Kenji Nagai

That all being said, during the vernissage, everyone, Mr. Davidson included was extremely gracious in answering my inane and very childish questions. He told me that the aluminum sculpture Meeting at the Centre had been first designed on paper, then cut out, and then constructed. And in judging from the video that accompanies the show, and some extra stuff in the catalogue, I would venture a guess that most of his work is fairly rigorously thought out in advance.

I didn't quite get to dish the dirt with either Mr. Davidson or Karen Duffek (the curator of the show) but I came close, when I pointed out that the way that the show had been hung in Ottawa was 6527% better than the way I had seen it displayed here in Montreal. Brighter walls, and more mixing up of pieces, instead of placing all the drums together, and all the paintings together in chronological order. It makes quite a difference in how you view objects if you are viewing them in an Art Museum, a history museum (or from whence they came first) an anthropology museum. It seems to me that the non-art museums tend to like to focus on the pieces as objects, attempting to highlight functionality without really wanting you to look at two pieces at the same time and say 'Hey! That swoopy-thing in the corner of this painting, reappears on that sculpture over there!' And finally, I gotta find me some time to do more digging I'd like to know if there is a similar figure in North West Coast art as there is to James Houston with respect to Inuit art.

Robert Davidson's website is here. And if you go see the exhibition, tell them at the museum that I say 'hi.'

Robert Davidson: The Abstract Edge.
2 February – 6 May 2007
National Gallery of Canada
380 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario
Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 5 pm, Thursday to 8 pm.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

    Your Ad Here

      << Home