Haida artist Davidson wins B.C.'s Audain Prize

Robert Davidson,a renowned Haida artist, has been named winner of the Audain Prize for lifetime achievement, B.C.'s largest visual arts award.
Killer Whale Transforming into a Thunderbird, a 2009 wood carving by Robert Davidson, was commissioned by the Vancouver Art Gallery. (Trevor Mills/Vancouver Art Gallery)

Robert Davidson, a renowned Haida artist, has been named winner of the Audain Prize for lifetime achievement, B.C.'s largest visual arts award.

The prize from the Audain Foundation grants $30,000 annually to a senior British Columbia artist, selected by an independent jury.

Davidson is known for combining traditional imagery with modern techniques in his masks and totem poles. He is also a painter, printmaker and jeweller.

Winners of the $12,0000 Viva Prizes for mid-career artists were also named Thursday. They are:

  • Germaine Koh, a Vancouver-based conceptual artist.
  • Marina Roy, a Vancouver-based artist who works in many media.
Ravenous, 2003, carved cedar sculpture by Robert Davidson, is in a private collection. ((Kenji Nagai/Canada Council for the Arts))

Davidson, who won a Governor General's Award for visual art earlier this year, is credited with helping to revive traditional Haida art forms.

Born in Hydaburg, Alaska, Davidson grew up on Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, and began carving at age 13. Davidson said he moved into carving naturally because of the kind of life people lived on Haida Gwaii.

"It wasn't a ready-made society. We were in a small fishing village, people made things all the time. It was a natural progression for me," he told CBC in an interview earlier this year.

He worked for a short time with legendary artist Bill Reid and then studied at the Vancouver School of Art. In 1969, he carved and raised the first totem in 90 years on Haida Gwaii, an event he said was a watershed in the lives of the Haida and a catalyst to creativity for his people.

Davidson's work is held in public collections, including the National Gallery of Canada and the Vancouver Art Gallery. He lives and works in White Rock, B.C.

Haida artist Robert Davidson has won the Audain Prize for lifetime achievement. ((Martin Lipman/Canada Council for the Arts))

The VAG recently commissioned the artist to carve the large-scale transformation panel, Killer Whale Transforming into a Thunderbird, which was displayed in the exhibition Visions of British Columbia: A Landscape Manual.

Bus wrapped in camouflage

The Viva Awards are presented annually to celebrate exemplary achievement by British Columbia artists in mid-career and are funded by the Jack and Doris Shadbolt Foundation.

Koh's work appeared in the 2009 exhibition How Soon Is Now: Contemporary Art From Here at the VAG. She has exhibited her work in public art galleries across Canada and was a finalist for the 2004 Sobey Art Award.  She also was selected as a part of the Liverpool, Sydney and Montreal biennials.

Her often amusing work highlights the environment — both natural and man-made. The artist has wrapped a bus in a camouflage that mimics the streetscape of its route in MAINstREetBUS and attached an LED chandelier that changes with the weather to a streetlamp in Candelabrum.

Roy has created animated and video works, such as Sleeper, which shows the dreams of a sleeping child and drawings and paintings such as Presidential Suites, with images hidden inside each painting of a room. She also works in sculpture.

Her animated film, Apartment, which takes the viewer through each room of an opulent, but dilapidated, apartment building, appeared in the VAG exhibition How Soon is Now.

An assistant professor of visual arts at the University of British Columbia, Roy has exhibited her work across Canada, as well as in Europe and the United States. All the artists will be honoured May 12 at an award ceremony at the Vancouver Art Gallery.