I first became aware of Emily Carr when I saw her work at the National Gallery of Canada in Vancouver 15 years ago. I was, not to put too fine a point on it, gobsmacked! I had never heard of her or seen work like hers. For days I talked about her work (mostly to people who just nodded politely). When we got home, I looked her up and examined all the work I of hers I could find. Then I read Susan Vreeland’s wonderful novel The Forest Lover, a fictionalized account of her life. And in 2007 Sandy Wagner did a post here at Ragged Cloth Cafe about her. This summer I got the chance to go back to British Columbia, and of course I was anxious to see Carr’s work again. And I fell in love with it all over again.
Among the Firs 1930’s 36×30″
I love her trees and her light:
The Little Pine 1931 Scorned Timber 1935
The Red Cedar 1933 Above the Trees 1939
They beautifully convey the forests of British Columbia, the movement of the trees, the pouring down of light, and, in fact, the spiritual energy that Carr obviously found there. Her art was too individual, too avant garde for her time. And while sometimes praised for the “vigor of her technique” her work was shunned as being not realistic enough. Carr responded to this criticism by saying, “a picture should be more than meets the eye of the ordinary observer. . . .Art is art, nature is nature, you cannot improve upon it. . . .Pictures should be inspired by nature, but made in the soul of the artist, it is the soul of the individual that counts” ( Emily Carr, An Introduction to Her Life and Art by Anne Newlands).
Yes! The soul of the individual and the eye of the artist!
This past fall I took a drawing class for the first time. I believed myself pretty lacking in talent, but found that my good observational skills kept me in good stead. The class was working mainly on still lifes, and of course we all endeavored to be as accurate as possible. Realism (terrifying!). But what was most striking to me, above and beyond my astonishment that my drawings actually looked like what they were intended to, was that all the drawings, while quite “accurate,” were very different and could easily be identified by artist. Because we see differently and because we are interested in some things and not in others. In other words, we make choices, and those choices make our work individual.
I am grateful for Emily Carr’s beautiful choices, for her wonderful eye and magnificent soul.