(Our appreciation goes out to Robert Genn whose helpful website called painterskeys provided the lively quotations by Emily Carr in this article.)
Emily Carr, Canadian painter, writer and potter, was born on the island of Victoria, British Columbia, in 1871. In her late teens, she spent three years studying art in San Francisco and then visited England to study watercolor. Eventually, she spent two years in France learning about Post-Impressionism and the colorful Fauves.
“I think that one’s art is a growth inside one. I do not think one can explain growth. It is silent and subtle. One does not keep digging up a plant to see how it grows.”
She had always loved the native cultures, the Haida, Gitksan and Tsimshian, and when she returned to Vancouver she spent time traveling up the Skeena River and along the coast to the Queen Charlotte Islands and Moresby Island documenting their houses, masks and totem poles.
“Indian Art broadened my seeing, loosened the formal tightness I had learned in England’s schools. Its bigness and stark reality baffled my white man’s understanding… I had been schooled to see outsides only, not struggle to pierce.”
Later, she focused on the landscape, purchasing a caravan trailer (“The Elephant”) for plein air sketching trips into the forests of British Columbia. She often used oils on paper, which contributed to her fluid, spontaneous brushstrokes.
“I sat staring, staring, staring – half lost, learning a new language or rather the same language in a different dialect. So still were the big woods where I sat, sound might not yet have been born.”
At the age of 57, she was invited to participate in an exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada and traveled to Ottawa where she met the Group of Seven. She found the work of Lawren Harris especially inspiring, and he became a friend, saying that she was “one of them.” She returned from this eastern trip to begin the most productive period of her career, creating the inspired, powerful canvases for which she is best known. Her work was exhibited in London, Paris, Washington and Amsterdam, as well as major Canadian cities.
“I have been sent more ridiculous press notices. People are frequently comparing my work with Van Gogh… I do hope I do not get bloated and self-satisfied. When proud feelings come I step up over them to the realm of work, to the thing I want, the liveness of the thing itself.”