Robert Davidson

"If we look back over the past two hundred years of Haida history, we can see a definite progression in the art form. Who knows where the art will go from here? The limitation is really up to the artist in the present moment."

- Robert Davidson, guud san glans, 2004.

Robert Davidson is a skilled painter, printmaker, jewelry maker, and carver. His Haida name is guud san glans “Eagle of the Dawn”. Davidson creates work using the Haida visual language. Originally it was the stories and the philosophy of his community that “bred the art” but that now art is the catalyst for him and his contemporaries to investigate and explore the philosophy. It is Davidson’s goal to have Haida art recognized as a high art form, and he believes that it is the artist’s responsibility to challenge the art world’s impression that work created through a traditional visual language is a “curio”. His abstraction of the traditional Haida visual language, combined with his ability to clearly discuss his practice and goals has lead to what some call a “renaissance of Haida art and culture”.

In 1947 he moved with his family from Alaska to Old Massett on Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands), where he was raised. Born into an artistic family, his great-grandfather was renowned turn of the century Haida artist Charles Edenshaw, he began to practice argillite carving (argillite is a fine-grained black silt stone) in his early teens studying under his father Claude Davidson, and paternal grandfather Robert Davidson Sr. A career launching eighteen-month apprenticeship with artist Bill Reid further solidified his skills and knowledge, as it was during this time that he met artist Bill Holm and anthropologist Wilson Duff both of who generously shared with him their knowledge of the Haida. In 1967 he began his formal studies in drawing and design at the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design), where he also took extension courses in jewelry making.

Davidson has not only invested himself in the visual language of his Haida community but also the performative language. In 1980 he and his brother Reg Davidson, founded tuul gundlaas xyaal xaada (the Rainbow Creek Dancers), a Haida performance group which presents both ancestral and new compositions to a diverse public. Both his visual art and performative practice are means by which he explores traditional Haida culture, and encourages its contemporary growth and expansion.

Sea Wolf inside its own Dorsal Fin is an excellent example of Davidson’s combination of the Haida visual language and his practice of abstraction. He has received honorary degrees from the Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas and three British Columbia universities, The Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria. In 1995 he was awarded the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Art and Culture, the Order of British Columbia, and the following year he received the Order of Canada. In 1997 the Royal Canadian Mint released a 22kt gold coin in the image of one of his works.