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Robert Davidson – Abstract Impulse

davidson_robertThursday (June 5), I was in attendance of the final day of The Americas Film Festival of New York at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. I showed up early, like the over eager woman that I am, and spent some time walking around exhibits to observe some wonderful history and kill a bit of time before the premiere of the amazing film, Winter in the Blood (my review can be found here).

I was most drawn to the Abstract Impulse exhibit by Robert Davidson, of the Haida tribe in Canada (b.1946). The Salish style artwork was wonderfully curated in both directions of the exhibits path.

The outer pieces included jewelry, and wooden sculptures as well as darker colored paintings leading in to larger brighter pieces. These pieces had bright but deep red patterns and symbols that stood out against the eggshell white walls. This allowed the audience to feel the energy that was put into each piece.

Playing throughout the exhibit was a video featuring Davidson speaking about his pieces and on his work through the years. “Art has given me a chance to be a voice,” Davidson said within the video. With the energy and beauty from all of his pieces, Davidson has done just that by ‘speaking’ through his art about his tribe’s history and traditional symbolism.

My favorite pieces within the exhibit were the drums that were set up as a kind of funnel into an enclave that held totem pieces. The drums entitled, “Eagle Giving Birth to itself” finished in 1992 featured the traditional salish eagle, painted in white, red and black on the head of the drum. The second drum was entitled “Echoes From the Supernatural” or Wolf Drum. This drum was finished in 1991. These drums are traditionally used at potlatches (similar to pow wows) and other ceremonies.


The exhibition will continue through mid-September. The following was taken from the NMAI website:


“Organized by the NMAI and the Seattle Art Museum, this is the first major U.S. exhibition of works by Haida artist Robert Davidson, a pivotal figure in the Northwest Coast Native art renaissance since 1969, when he erected the first totem pole in his ancestral Massett village since the 1880s. For more than 40 years, Davidson has mastered Haida art traditions by studying the great works of his great-grandfather Charles Edenshaw and others. More recently, Davidson has interjected his own interpretation of the old forms with forays into abstraction, explored in boldly minimalistic easel paintings, graphic works, and sculpture, where images are pared to essential lines, elemental shapes, and strong colors. Robert Davidson: Abstract Impulse features 45 paintings, sculptures, and prints created since 2005, as well as key images from earlier in the artist’s career that show Davidson’s evolution toward an elemental language of form. Robert Davidson: Abstract Impulse is organized by the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) in collaboration with the NMAI–NY. Lead Grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. Major support provided by The MacRae Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support provided by The Hugh and Jane Ferguson Foundation, Port Madison Enterprises, Eugene V. and Clare Thaw Charitable Trust, and Contributors to SAM’s Annual Fund.”


While I would have loved be able to share pictures of the pieces within the exhibit, photography was prohibited under museum policy. However, I highly recommend viewing any of Davidson’s exhibitions on museum visits or at gallery showings. For more information on Davidson and to check out his works you can go to his website.


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