Guud San Glans Robert Davidson: A Line That Bends But Does Not Break
Robert Davidson at his studio, 2022.

Guud San Glans Robert Davidson: A Line That Bends But Does Not Break

Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC - To Apr 16

by Robin Laurence

A towering figure in contemporary Canadian art, Robert Davidson – whose Haida name, Guud san glans, means “Eagle of the Dawn” – is internationally recognized for his beautifully realized sculptures and carvings, which range from monumental cedar poles to jewelry in gold and abalone shell. But he is also a master of two-dimensional art, including prints, paintings, drawings and laser-cut aluminum sculptures, works that both honour and improvise upon Haida design principles.

Opened to critical and popular acclaim at the Vancouver Art Gallery, A Line That Bends But Does Not Break surveys Davidson’s graphic works across many mediums, from the late 1960s to the present day. It also underscores Davidson’s prolific output, astonishing even the artist himself. At the exhibition’s media preview, he laughed and said, “When I see my work all in one place, I think, Holy shit, it’s time to take a day off!”
Davidson is among those now senior Northwest Coast artists who, when young, recovered and re-energized Indigenous cultural forms, so nearly lost to colonization and oppressive laws, by studying the works of their forebears in museums. “Art is our visual language,” he says. Relearning it has been like finding pieces of a “puzzle” and fitting them together. The show begins with Davidson’s early serigraphs, which he recounts selling for $8 each, then gradually opens up in scale, medium and colour to paintings on canvas, free-standing flat metal sculptures, and large prints that grow in drama, forcefulness and inventiveness as they carry Haida graphic traditions into the 21st century.

Curated by the VAG’s Richard Hill and Mandy Ginson, A Line That Bends is partnered with another impressive achievement, Echoes of the Supernatural: The Graphic Art of Robert Davidson. A big and bountiful book, by independent writer and curator Gary Wyatt, it is jointly published by the VAG and Figure.1 – not as a catalogue to the show but as a separate and distinct record of Davidson’s astounding achievements in two-dimensional art forms.

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