You don’t have to dig very deeply into Northwest Coast art to stumble across a representation of Raven stealing the light from the chest where its owner has cached it. Whether you’re looking at a print, a piece of jewelry or a sculpture, in any gallery, you have an almost certain chance of finding a representation of the myth. In many ways, the story is to modern Northwest Coast art what the crucifixion or a Madonna and child were to the Italian Renaissance – a standard subject that most artists tackle sooner or later. That’s why Bill Hudson’s “Raven Opens the Box of Daylight” tickled our sense of humor so much that an artist’s proof of the cartoon was under our Christmas tree this year.
Bill Hudson is the spouse of Clarissa Hudson, the Tlingit weaver and painter. From what I’ve seen, much of his own work is more mainstream and includes a good deal of commercial and theatrical design. However, some of his work shows a Northwest Coast influence, including a poster he did for the twentieth anniversary of the Alaska Folk Festival that shows Raven, human with a mask for a head, wrapped in a robe of his own feathers and strumming a balalaika.
What I like about Hudson’s cartoon is the way that he has reduced a myth from the dawn of creation to a modern, mundane scene around a breakfast table, complete with orange juice and toaster. Far from being a great treasure, the light is contained in a commercial cereal box. It’s a good-natured but hilarious comment on just how common the story is; I’ve described the piece to several Northwest Coast artists, and all of them have understood the point immediately.
At the same time, Hudson has paid close attention to detail. Outside the window, you’ll notice, the stars and moon are visible, since in any form, the story predates the sun. Also, the raven’s feathers are not just black, as ninety-nine out of a hundred people would describe them, but tinted with a dark blue, as a raven’s feathers actually are. I appreciate such close attention to detail in what, for all its satire, is essentially a slight piece – so much so, that I have started paying closer attention to the rest of Hudson’s work, on the grounds that anyone who takes such pains is (at the very least) a thorough-going professional.