Artist Profiles

Robert Davidson has opened the door for younger artists to integrate their history and longstanding customs into contemporary art movements. Like Davidson, Kwakwakawakw artists, Sonny Assu and Steve Smith are inheritors of the ‘formline’ art tradition, defined by a complex stylistic vocabulary of shapes, geometrics and topographies, historically employed in totem poles, house fronts and transformational masks. Reshaping the formline in the face of the personal and political, artist Steve Smith individualizes his tribal identity, while Sonny Assu elides Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakwak practices and Pop Art, challenging corporate and nation-state colonialism


In the tradition of mentorship, Steve Smith was originally taught by his father. Painting his father’s carvings, his work was meant to pass as his father’s. When he surpassed his mentor, and his ‘self’ entered into his work, he became a contemporary artist. Today, these origins remain the foundation beneath bold experiments in form and colour. Smith interprets formlines through the changes and challenges of personal history. He credits a recent heart attack and the visions experienced during a triple bypass surgery for altering his palette from the red, green and blacks of Northwest Pacific indigenous art to a polyphony of colour


Sonny Assu, graduate of Emily Carr College of Art and Design, uses painting, sculpture, large scale installations, digital constructions and photography to challenge monolithic commercial culture. ‘Consumerism, branding, and technology are new modes of totemic representation,’ writes Assu. Exploring the effects of colonisation on the Indigenous people of North America loss of land, language and cultural resourcesAssu deconstructs perceived identities and overturns the myth of the virgin continent and its vanished peoples. His digital series, Interventions on the Imaginary, imposes the traditional formline on pre-existing narratives, challenging colonial depictions of the receding Indian and the empty continent. Like alien spaceships, neon formlines hover above early colonial landscapes, interrupting the imperialistic tale of the ‘other’ and inverting the gaze.


Read more from the

First Nations Now: Between Worlds



The Baldwin Recommends…

The National Maritime Museum & Origins Festival present:

 Tanya Tagaq – Nanook of the North

As part of the ORIGINS Festival Closing Night Event, legendary Inuit throat singer and tour-de-force vocalist Tanya Tagaq improvises a mesmerising soundscape for the controversial 1922 silent film Nanook of the North.

Event type: 

Evenings & Lates

Date and time: 

Sunday 25 June 2017 | Doors Open 7pm | Event 8.00 – 9pm


Adult £15 | Concession £12 | Student £10

Click here for tickets


National Maritime Museum, The Great Map

Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England


Dear friends,
thank you to everyone who came to Blacks Club in Soho to celebrate an excerpt of The Sublunary World.

If you couldn’t make it, or would like to see the show again, just call The Baldwin Gallery and make an appointment. The exhibition will hang at Blacks through June and July, and we would be delighted to welcome you, discuss art, First Nations, and the works of Meryl McMaster, David Ellingsen and Tim Shaw RA.

t: +44 203 620 6744,

Let’s begin with the founder, Dennison Baldwin Smith, and the question, why does a novelist, in the throes of finishing her fourth book, open an art gallery?

What looks like a curveball isn’t.

Unusually for a novelist, the most important players in Dennison’s life have often been fine artists. She has taken her inspiration from, and her intentions have been shaped by, the visual arts, even more than the literary.

As a mother, she spent long days in the National Gallery with a baby hitched to her back – because you aren’t going to read Crime and Punishment to keep a baby happy.

And as a young struggling writer, she spent her starving artist years in Cornwall, where her dumpster-diving boyfriend provided the food, and Dennison whipped up large dinner parties for other young struggling artists. Like herself, some are extremely successful today, amongst them Tim Shaw RA and Alexandra Roussopoulos. But the sense of community forged in those early years continues, and today it takes shape as an art gallery.

Far more unusual is the impact a Navajo family of shepherds had on Dennison’s life. Taken into their family and initiated into their customs, Dennison acquired a deep respect for their integrated worldview and its expression through art. These continue to shape her novels, and now The Baldwin Gallery.

In keeping with Navajo philosophy, The Baldwin Gallery is unique in its use of narrative and the interdisciplinary as a platform for appreciating visual and applied arts. We offer art in context and relationship and forge links between artists with strong place-based philosophies, whether indigenous North American or European. We offer quarterly literary, academic and performance salons to create community and expand the appreciation and understanding of contemporary art.

An elegant home-based gallery, we think art should be an integrated experience. ‘One taste’ is the expression. From the white cube to the bedroom wall. Or even, open the closet, and it’s there.

And so we bring contemporary art into the European home life, with special attention to indigenous North American artists. Inspired by the Native American understanding of art as who you are, where you live, what you breathe, and not as mere commodity, The Baldwin Gallery = Art is Home.


The philosopher, Martin Heidegger said it:

Home is dwelling.

Dwelling, from the word to build, bauen, implying to cherish and protect and preserve and even to spare. Dwelling is an act of kindness and necessity.

For Heidegger, home is a place of both being and becoming.

Think of it this way: hair down, but hair growing.

Home is how we inhabit earth, architecture, flesh, thought structures and art. Home is reciprocal. It protects us, and we it. But how does art do that?

Art is a dialogue between the artist who makes and the viewer who cherishes. If protecting us means allowing us to be and provoking us to become, then certainly art is home.

Dwelling, says Heidegger, is what humans do. It’s ‘the essential existential core of human being-in-the-world from which there is no escape.’*

Which sounds a little ominous. And dwelling is not always cosy, because there is an inescapable tension. For Heidegger, this is an imperfection in the making.

Sometimes that imperfection is where the magic happens. The Baldwin Gallery won’t be selling those Tim Shaw sculptures that have emigrated through four countries and eight homes over twenty years with owner Dennison Smith, and which wear the dinks and marks of time and travel. (Dennison would never part with them!) But we will exhibit them, because their imperfections deepen their story, and they are richer for being cherished. (Shaw’s work will be offered in pristine condition, for a new home to add the imperfections.)

Long before the environmental crisis, Heidegger accused us all of failing to dwell deeply. He said we demand too much of the world and – whether in regard to ‘how we build, see, understand, [or] think ‘– we should learn to let the world and ourselves be.*

What is home is a many-storied question, which dovetails with what is indigenous and who are we.

It’s a question we will be exploring in shows, salons and blogs, over evenings of food and wine, through art, literature, music and discussion, as we welcome artists, salonists and guests into Dennison’s Blackheath home. (See events.)

© Dennison Smith


* David Seamon, ‘Concretizing Heidegger’s Notion of Dwelling: The Contributions of Thomas Thiis-Evensen And Christopher Alexander’ in Building and Dwelling [Bauen und Wohnen], edited by Eduard Führ.


The word indigenous – like native or first – is problematic, but English doesn’t offer us a better word.

The dictionary definition is: ‘originating or occurring naturally in a particular place’ or ‘naturally existing in a place or country rather than arriving from another place.’

Both definitions and their applications are suspicious when applied to humans.


Because the word can be used to falsify an immobilising history, one that stagnates a people in both time and space, and one in which any kind of change – from innovation to migration – equals the dirtying or diminishment of a mythical state.

Also, the definition pits nature against culture – a concept rooted in colonialist or patriarchal hierarchies – rather than viewing nature and culture as so intertwined that even the horrors of an all-plastic world could never fully untangle them.

What to do?

The English language needs a better definition.

We need the word to express the legacy of deep and abiding relationships between people and places, and the resilience of traditions sensitive to their environment, and the centrality of origin to a longstanding culture which has been marginalized by an incoming power.

So, Dennison has suggested some tweaking to the OED. She hopes the dictionary writers are listening!

Indigenous: originating or occurring in historical and ongoing relationship to a particular place, or experiencing oneself and culture as naturally existing in a place or country rather than arriving from another place.

Here, at least, the word has a little subtlety and breadth. And it can be used to embrace both the hardiness and the natural changefulness of cultures, reflected in the work of First Nations artists, like Steve Smith, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, Robert Davidson and Preston Singletary, who are, at once, rooted in tradition, contemporary realities, and a creative and innovative practice.

©Dennison Smith