Robert Davidson: Haida Design

Robert Davidson: Haida Design

This Fall we are celebrating Robert Davidson’s artworks and achievements. Davidson is one of Canada's most important contemporary artists. He has been immensely influential in the direction that modern Northwest Coast art has developed over the last six decades. He is a master in every medium, including wood, gold, silver, argillite, silkscreen and bronze.

This November is an exciting month for Davidson. Along with an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, he is also releasing an incredible new book, with Gary Wyatt and Karen Duffek. This month will also see the release of Davidson's new print, Hied sda sGwaansang (Two Working Together), which we are very excited to unveil in this newsletter.

hlGed sda sGwaansang (Two Working Together)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Edition /49
30" H x 30" W

In celebration of the Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition this month, we thought it would be fitting to showcase our current Robert Davidson favourites. We’ve recently been lucky to receive a few pieces from private collections, as well as some notable sculptural works from Davidson’s career which will also be on display here at the Douglas Reynolds Gallery.


For the first time in years, Davidson’s large plaster of the Raven Bringing Light To The World will be on public display. Over two decades ago, we sold this plaster to a private collector and we are thrilled to have it temporarily shown.

Raven Bringing Light to the World displayed at the Douglas Reynolds Gallery (1990s).


If you are in or around Vancouver, Robert’s new solo exhibition, Guud sans glans Robert Davidson: A Line That Bends But Does Not Break opens November 26th at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Running until April 16, 2023, the exhibit showcases the VAG’s extensive collection of his graphic works and is supplemented by pieces from private collections as well.

For the few who are unfamiliar, Robert Davidson, Guud sans glans "Eagle Of The Dawn", has been working as an artist for over fifty years, producing a body of work that has been featured in both public and private collections globally. His works are in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, and the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, to name a few.

Perhaps most notable is Davidson’s role and continued innovation in perpetuating Haida culture, in many forms. Involved in song, dance, and ceremony, as well as the vast output of visual artforms, Davidson has received many accolades and achievements for his involvement in the renaissance of Haida art. This includes the Order of British Columbia, the Order of Canada, the Governor General’s Award for Visual Arts, the Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement Award in the Visual Arts, an Inspire Award, as well as several honourary degrees from universities in both Canada and the United States.

A book launch event for Echoes of the Supernatural: The Graphic Art of Robert Davidson will be held the week prior to the Vancouver Art Gallery's exhibit opening, on November 17th, 2022 from 4 - 8pm at the VAG in the 4th-floor atrium.

Echoes of the Supernatural: The Graphic Art of Robert Davidson
Gary Wyatt with Robert Davidson, Forward by Karen Duffek
Hardcover Book

The book is currently available for purchase at the Douglas Reynolds Gallery and it showcases a fantastic cross-section of Robert’s original paintings and prints.


As a master of Haida tradition, for several years Robert Davidson studied the great works by his great-grandfather Charles Edenshaw and others. After becoming fluent in the language of formline, in recent years Davidson has pushed traditional Haida design to near abstraction. In order to lean up against this abstracted form, Davidson in turn shows his deep understanding of Haida traditional expression. He continues to work within the rules of Haida tradition, while also bending and stretching them to achieve an aesthetic that is his own.


Robert Davidson at his studio with his painting Wiid. Photo courtesy of the Seattle Times.

One of Robert's most recent original paintings, titled Basics Enhanced, is currently on display at the Bill Reid Gallery until March 19, 2023. Composed in Davidson’s more recent abstract-learning style, Basics Enhanced begs the question of “what are the basics?” Robert poses this question within the design, which relates to this work specifically, yet also in a broader spectrum.

Basics Enhanced (2019)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Acrylic on canvas
60" H x 40" W

These next couple of paintings from the Douglas Reynolds Gallery will be featured in Robert's exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and will still be available to purchase throughout the show.

Wiid (2013)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Acrylic on Canvas
60" H x 40" W

Wiid was first exhibited in his solo exhibition Robert Davidson: Progression of Form in the summer of 2015 at the Gordon Smith Gallery in Vancouver. It will now also be featured in his upcoming exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

From the Progression of Form catalogue,

“The wiid is a bird that only appears when the salmonberries are ripening on Haida Gwaii. The bird is here reduced to a small head in the upper portion of the composition. The flower of the salmonberry might be alluded to in the white cross-shape against the blue. Formally, the work is a precise balance of a series of tensions and releases. The pressure seen in the compressed white tri-neg defined by the conjunction of the black, blue and red forms is relieved by the upward sweep of the line between the black and red shapes. The bird head is a point of detail within the larger, sweeping shapes of the work.”

Negative Eye Positive Eye No. 1 (2011)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Acrylic on Canvas
30" H x 60" W x 2" D

This other painting we’ll be loaning to the VAG is Negative Eye Positive Eye No. 1. Along with its pair Negative Eye Positive Eye No. 2, this piece was included in Davidson’s solo show Robert Davidson: Progression of Form. The paintings are similar and are mirror images of one another compositionally, however, the differing use of colour and feel allows each painting to be read independently of the other.

The show focused on Davidson's recent works at the time, featuring his more abstract work. From the exhibition catalogue, Davidson states, "The Art is like any other language. Once one has an understanding and knowledge of the vocabulary, one can expand with confidence with that knowledge. In other words there are boundless possibilities within the vocabulary of Northwest Coast Art".

Negative Eye Positive Eye No. 1 and 2 side-by-side.

Robert Davidson and his brother Reg Davidson formed the Rainbow Creek Dancers in 1980 and still perform to this day. Together, the brothers have created several beautiful ceremonial objects such as drums and masks for their performances throughout the years. The name of the dance group is derived from a creek that runs only in the winter, behind the village of Massett. Winter is the ceremonial season, the traditional time of year when performances are held, and songs and dances are staged.

Davidson states, “The objective of Rainbow Creek is to bring meaning back to the songs and dances of our ancestors, performing them as they were taught to us by our elders. Following along the path of our ancestors, we strive to continually grow and connect with ceremonies that are relevant today to all people. To do so, we create new songs and dances, building upon the cultural foundation of our ancestors, and drawing upon our collective cultural, ceremonial and professional stage experiences.”

Robert dancing with the Rainbow Creek Dancers.
Photo by Dale Peterson, courtesy of Progression of Form.


Raven and Light Drum
Robert Davidson (Haida)
24" diam x 2" D
Hide, Wood, Acrylic

Davidson's original paintings are not only found on canvas but also seen on painted drums. Twelve-Sided Wolf was a drum design that was later turned into a limited edition print.

Twelve-Sided Wolf original drum.

Twelve-Sided Wolf limited-edition print.


As a young man, Davidson learned to cut his own screens and hand-pull prints. In the beginning, his first editions were not numbered or signed but by 1970 he was signing and numbering all of his editions. Davidson advanced from single-colour pulls of Haida crest designs to multi-layered original images from his own works in wood and silver. Davidson’s oeuvre is extensive, as he has been releasing prints almost every year since 1968.

We’re excited to have a great selection available of Robert’s prints stretching over the past five decades that exemplify his evolution of style. Gary Wyatt’s new book Robert Davidson: Echoes of the Supernatural provides new personal insight from Robert on many of the designs.

Reflections (1977)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Framed Serigraph, Edition /73,
25" H x 16" W x ¾" D

Reflections is the revisitation of a design that Robert originally created for a family Christmas card. The design, depicting a human face and its reflection (hence the title) in a puddle, was reworked so the eye was in a classic ovoid shape. He also added more teeth and reshaped the eyebrow. The ghost form of the tri-eg design was created by printing black over red, a technique Davidson first used in a print titled Benjamin’s Birth Announcement in 1976.

Seal Bowl (1978)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Framed Serigraph, Edition /150
12 ¾" H x 23 ¾" W


Dogfish (1975)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Framed Serigraph, Edition /74
13" H x 22" D x 1 ¾" D


The Seal Bowl print was commissioned by the Vancouver Aquarium in 1978 in commemoration of the construction of a new pool, dedicated to the rehabilitation and observation of harbour seals. The Seal is a common crest design seen on traditional feast dishes.

Eagle (1979)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Framed Serigraph, Edition /100
27 ¼" H x 27 ¼" W x 1" D


Two Finned Killerwhale (1979)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Framed Serigraph, Edition /199
26 ¾" H x 35 ¼" W x 1" D


In Eagle, like earlier prints Transformation and Bent Box Design, there is a duality to the design:

“I was doing a lot of soul-searching at the time. Much like the earlier prints Transformation [1976] and Bent Box Design [1978], where there is an inner and outer self, Eagle has an internal and external self. The outer self is a type of protection like a mask. The Frog is my spirit helper and forms the inner design - red is the heart or internal spirit. The outer ring is the Eagle. The hind feet of the Frog becomes the Eagle’s beak. When you remove the Frog the Eagle disappears, so you need both to make the whole.” - Robert Davidson

T-Silii-AA-Lis (1983)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Framed Serigraph, Edition /99
30" H x 41 ½" W


Killerwhale (1983)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Edition /99
30" H x 42" W

The Raven-Finned Killer Whale crest is a crest of Davidson’s father, Claude Davidson’s clan from the village of Dadens on Langara Island, Haida Gwaii. T-silii-AA-Lis (Raven-Finned Killer Whale) was the first piece of Davidson's acquired by the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1985.

Every Year the Salmon Come Back (1983)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Framed Serigraph, Edition /99
30" H x 42" W

Sisters of the Underworld (1998)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Edition /75
30" H x 41" W


In Flight (1995)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Edition /85
22 ¼" H x 30" W

The Dogfish or Shark is often portrayed as a female figure in Haida crests, and the title Sisters of the Underworld is in reference to this notion. Davidson liked the striking look created by leaving the face of the dogfish white while keeping the body black.


Double Negative (1993)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Framed Serigraph, Edition /72
29 ½" H x 41 ½" W

The focus of Double Negative was not on the subject matter, as Davidson says, he “did not have a story for the print”, rather the focus was on creating the ghost-image of the sharks within the dark area. The sharks were printed in red formline and covered with a black to achieve the look.


Raven Bringing the Light (1987)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Edition /50
20" H x 26" W

In the 1980s, Musician and activist Bruce Cockburn had pledged profits from a concert in Vancouver to the Haida Nation in support of their protests against logging on Lyell Island. In thanks, Davidson presented Cockburn with this print which led to further talks between the two. Eventually, Cockburn purchased the original painting and used the image on his 1987 album, Waiting on a Miracle (below).

Kugann jaad Giidii (2016)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Edition /71
25" H x 19" W


Occupied (2007)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Printer's Proof Edition /III
30 ¼" H x 45 ½" W

Occupied is in reference to the small occupied spaces that were doled out as reserve land on Haida Gwaii. Davidson states “when you look at the map of Haida Gwaii there are red parts to indicate reserve land we can occupy and it adds up to less than 0.1 percent. We have been corralled into this tiny piece of land.”


Bird in the Air (2016)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Edition /72
26 ½" H x 40" W


Supernatural Beings (2019)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Edition /79
29" H x 16 ¾" W

As suggested by the shape of the design of the print, Supernatural Beings was one example Davidson presented as a possible robe design for weaving. Although feedback from weavers was that the design could not be used, Davidson also received interest from a few who were willing to attempt it.


Wintertime (2015)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Edition /75
29" H x 15 ½" W

From Robert Davidson: Abstract Impulse:

"Wintertime evokes the quietude of life unseen, below the earth's surface, within the ceremonial house. This spare canvas, with one vertical element against a solid background, has an energetic focus within the singular ovoid, which seems to contain the promise of new life. It is a bold composition for a large painting, one that depends on the most elemental shapes and colours. Humour and irony frequently insinuate themselves into Haida stories and oratory. as well as everyday parlance. Davidson offered his interpretation of this work: it represents the time of year when snow is so deep that you have to stand up to 'take care of business."


Sk'ug sdang (2021)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Edition /97
16" H x 29" W

Looking at Asymmetry (2002)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Edition /111
46 ½" H x 20" W x 1 ½" D

Looking at Asymmetry was designed before the attacks of September 11, 2001. Davidson created its mirrored design, Are We Ready for the New Light? at a later date but kept the same format. Together the prints are meant to evoke the uncertainty that was felt after the wars that swiftly followed the events of 9/11.

Fisherman's Delight (2021)
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Serigraph, Edition /81
30" H x 30" W


Throughout his career, Robert Davidson has been responsible for the creation of some truly exceptional large-scale works. This Dogfish Mask, now in the collection of the Audain Art Museum in Whistler, is one example of Davidson's impressive monumental style masks.

Robert with his Dogfish Mask at the Douglas Reynolds Gallery. In the Audain Art Museum collection.

As previously mentioned, we are very excited to have an important sculptural work by Robert back in the gallery for public display. It is a notable work with an interesting story to be told about its creation, and interestingly, the large-format work was a scaled-up version of a pendant design that Davidson had carved from boxwood.

The sculpture is the large-scale plaster, Raven Bringing Light To The World. The original design can be found on a 2” diameter pendant that Davidson carved from boxwood in 1983. Later that year, Davidson created a slightly larger 12” format of the same design. The following year, Davidson scaled the design up even further in carving the 48” diameter original in 1984.

The original wood carving was donated by Davidson to the Haida Gwaii Museum in Skidegate. From this carving, a mold was taken and an original plaster made. Robert hand-carved the plaster to remove any imperfections and this plaster is the piece that hangs in the gallery today.

Boxwood Pendant.

48" Red Cedar Panel.

Original Plaster.


From this plaster, Davidson was commissioned by the Canadian Museum of History (formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization), along with Dr. Margaret Hess of Calgary, to create a 1/1 edition gilt-plated bronze. The bronze hangs in the Museum of History at the entrance to the grand hall, and the entrance to the Northwest Coast section. No other bronzes were made from this plaster.

Robert Davidson with large scale bronze at the Canadian Museum of History.

In demonstration of this works’ iconographic status, the Canadian Mint released a gold coin with the same design. In 1997, twenty five thousand limited-edition 22kt coins were released.

Beyond this exceptional work, there are some remarkable sculptural artworks by Davidson being displayed at the Douglas Reynolds Gallery this month.

Bird in the Air
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Aluminum, Edition /5
50 ¼" H x 84" L x 4" D


Noisy Fin
Robert Davidson (Haida)
Aluminum, Edition /7
32 ½" H x 24" W x 8 ½" D

Robert Davidson (Haida)
Aluminum, Edition /7
32 ½" H x 21 ½" W x 7" D
*Can also be ordered in a large-scale format*

We hope to see some of you in the gallery this November to help us celebrate Robert Davidson!

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