Of Beasts and Branches

Artist Jenifer Davidson and her worktable at the FREE SPACE gallery.

An interpretation of nature

Jenifer Davidson must have a really amazing workshop. This is what I kept thinking while visiting her at Northern Front Studio’s Free Space gallery in Waterfront Station. 

When I arrived, Davidson was working at a table, painting a panel of wood. At the front of the table were jars filled with items she’s gathered from nature, samples of what she uses in her artwork. I imagine her shop with row upon row of these jars of foraged forest ephemera – dried rose and fireweed petals, kinnickinnic, pebbles, sticks and twigs, lichens and moss, wild berries, and assorted colours of sand.

The extent and variety of the work suggest that Davidson is a very productive artist. She agrees that she is always making something, but it took the right space and some friendly support before she considered a solo show. After attending an opening at the Northern Front Studio last year, Davidson learned that Free Space is offered to visual artists at no cost, and with no jury process. That, combined with encouragement from a friend, led to Davidson’s decision to book the gallery. 

Once she had a specific intention for her practice, Davidson’s work became driven by the show’s theme. “It was really neat to have a focus to create a body of work that had some kind of cohesion to it as opposed to just one-offs,” she said.

The exhibit is based on Davidson’s fascination with the proximity of urban and wilderness spaces in the Yukon. She describes the show as “a new body of work that combines the wild magnificence of our flora with the hard edges of urban living, inspiring a fresh look at these convergences and inviting you to contemplate the grace in the profound beauty where our natural and urban worlds intersect.”

Davidson is drawn to the forest floor, “the carpets of kinnickinnic, with its delicate fairy flowers, the sharp scent of pine needles, and contrast of lichen and moss against grey-brown clay.”

This attraction has led Davidson to incorporate elements of the forest into her work. The grizzly piece, entitled Passing Through, features the bear as negative space cut out of wood. The empty space is filled with resin, and a display of kinnickinnic, soapberry, prickly rose, pine and fireweed is suspended in the bear’s body. 

Next to the bear, a fox called Urban Dweller is painted in relief, framed by a golden midnight sun. On another wall, a large swallow cut from wood and painted with iridescent blues surveys the space with a single watchful eye. In ‘Day Trip’, a bald eagle soars over treetops. The eagle’s body is made from bark, and its beak and feet are made from a yellow wildflower that Davidson dried in her toaster oven. 

Davidson is resourceful not only in the materials she collects from nature, but also in her ability to make everything herself. She built the frames from repurposed wood; she also makes furniture and jewelry. Again, the conversation goes back to her shop which she inherited from her father, along with his tools which she supplemented with her own. In this creative space Davidson “can do anything short of metalwork.” 

She is also a graphic artist, which she suggests is why she focuses on shapes rather than details. And it’s true: her beasts are simple forms inhabiting relatively flat space which is given depth through relief and the addition of natural elements such as sticks and twigs. The work also has a symmetry, seen particularly in the piece Street Royalty which features a raven with outstretched wings made of leather and feathers.

After being in high-production mode for weeks making work for Of Beasts and Branches, Davidson isn’t really taking a break. She’s been commissioned to make another grizzly bear piece and she wants to start experimenting with working on a larger scale.

She also needs to replenish her workshop; for example, the exhibit depleted her supply of sand which she sources from the Takhini River. Gathering and collecting are part of Davidson’s process, something she can do while walking with her daughter in nature. Her work speaks to the gratitude she feels for living here. She also has friends who forage on her behalf: “I have beautiful people in my life who bring me things.”

Of Beasts and Branches: an interpretation of nature can be viewed Mondays-Fridays until August 31.

Beast of the Boreal

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