Artist Davida Kidd sets up her imagery like a stage with misappropriated props and no familiar script, writes fellow Canadian Artist Derek Besant
I first met Canadian artist, Davida Kidd, 24 years ago in 1986, during her first year as a Graduate student at the University of Alberta where I was teaching. Her imagery. even then, showed a gritty finesse and grandeur in how she depicted the figure – through photo-based collage in black-inked intaglio. Early works revealed partially nude figures, bound in one way or another, surrounded by fields of rich visual abstract textures akin to 18th century European religious paintings of torture or ecstasy. By contrast, her narrative was much closer to secular desires of physicality and the erotic undertow of Goya’s Seven Deadly Sins portfolio of line etchings with aquatint.
Davida Kidd continues to produce complicated printed imagery, creating an intended sense of discord rather than harmony and incorporating photo-figurative material, often with hand-drawn elements. Themes of domination, guilt or implied aggression recur in female figures screaming at one another, a man holding a gun in his mouth, or in snakes circling a woman’s head in a Medusa-like warning ‘not to gaze any further’. But we do look and Kidd depends on our curiosity to get the better of us.
Kidd has lectured on intentionally odd archetypes that occupy her prints: from pre-pubescent girls formally served up in ballet tutus or school uniforms, tattoos gang members selling meat and guns at a Sunday Market; or an arm dripping paint into a sink, like a blood – letting ritual signifying the ‘end of painting’. The domino effect of these images suggests an extremity of aesthetic content; but they are seductively orchestrated to be as disturbing as any newspaper headline. Kidd states that her interest lies between ‘the fragility and ferocity of human behavior’. It is this polarity that gives her permission irreverently to dissect and reconstruct those same qualities in her work, but not necessarily at a safe distance.
Vancouver, the west coast Canadian city where Kidd lives and works, has a body of contemporary photographers who set up archetypal scenarios with narrative content concerning social themes of race, affluence, poverty, war, currency, family society or morality. There is a recognizable character to photography from this region. Kidd, as a photo-based print artist, has dipped her toe into this pool this past decade, by making work in which psychological theories become subject matter. Peforated with wit, humour, political satire and taboos, Kidd sets the stage for her characters to be instantly dangerous, demented, dysfunctional and desirable, worthy of the types in any David Lynch film: the girl buried beneath teddy bear and dolls, on a chair piled with crinoline dresses, the tattooed man wearing cowboy boots, struggling to haul three over-sized sign letters that spell the word ‘ART’; the Asian skateboarding teenager and his doppelganger wearing metal finger extensions like medieval weaponry; the girl in Los Vegas dancer’s jeweled and feathered headdress as paper sheets fall off the wall beside her. Any of these careful choreographed scenes, output as digital images on rag paper, reveal cultural iconography as relevant to our own times as were Toulouse Lautrec’s Lithographs of Parisian nightlife in the 19th century.
Kidd’s gathering of eclectic resource material ranges from graffiti scrawls (in her own font designs), miniature representations of houses (like dolls’ houses), comic art with balloon texts, kitsch cultural artifacts picked up in foreign street markets, poised characters in costumes and children’s stuffed toys. The reconstructed image of a troubled boy (with 1950s haircut) in her digital print ‘Tank’ is a good example of Kidd’s juxtaposition of reworked photo sources into a final print. The boy is pictured in the foreground, in an abandoned flat, it’s tired linoleum floor scattered with psychological clues amongst the debris and shadows. References to traditional printmaking are revealed in the repeated pattern of roses on the wallpaper, with its ambiguous, unsettling stain at the bed’s head end.
In ‘The Safety of Small Things’, the stand-in figurine- like a southern belle or crocheted tea cosy, – is pursued by a school of small fish on an ocean’s shores.
Almost unnoticed are two miniature houses in the shadows, altering our Lilliputian perceptions completely in scale and context. This print is assembled from the real world, with real objects that function as representations of that world, but end up like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in a place of the imagination. Kidd’s panoramic print develops a strong tradition of richly metaphoric feminine mythologies, found in Indigenous North American storytelling, in which water acts as a symbol of life, cleansing and rebirth. The image’s levitating female figure seems oblivious to the fish and cannot possibly dwell in the houses. There is no conclusion, only interpretations and possibly error.
In 2003, Davida Kidd won the ‘Krakow International Print Triennial Grand Prize” in Poland for her unusual and provocative prints (for which she has received numerous awards and grants from British Columbia to the Pacific Rim). In summer 2004 she took over the empty basement of the Electra building, an office tower in downtown Vancouver, and occupied it as an ongoing art installation stage, where she could create ‘scenes’ to photograph amongst flickering fluorescent ceiling lights, water seeping under metal doors, bare concrete walls and a constant whirr from the machine room down the hall. Adapting her traditional printmaking training, Kidd went on to learn new hybrid digital methods. Because her themes draw from archetypes – reconfigured in contemporary interpretations, – she makes a point of integrating new commercial print technology into her mixed-media approach.
For Davida Kidd, exploring and adapting new print methods in which drawing and photography collide, creates an unusual appearance on the paper’s surface. Her techniques are at the forefront of contemporary image evolution, yet with a sense of printmaking’s traditions. Being able to morph photographic material and drawn elemtsn into one image, but to have the ink surface applied as one taut skin, introduced an intriguing element of doubt and deception. That is Davida Kidd’s dark matter, while her prints seem like haunting, half remembered dreams.
Davida Kidd has been a member of the Faculty of Visual Arts, University of the Fraser Valley, Abbottsford, British Columbia, Canada since 1996.She is one of the visual artists that was chosen to exhibit a piece at the 2010 EXPO Canadian Pavilion, Shanghai China.
-Derek Besant RCA