After walking through the brightly lit rooms of Entangled: Two Views on Contemporary Canadian Painting (previous post) at the Vancouver Art Gallery I wandered into a cozy, dimly lit space displaying Emily Carr paintings in the show 空/Emptiness: Emily Carr and Lui Shou Kwan.
The paintings are gorgeous: the Vancouver Art Gallery has some of the best examples of Carr’s work I’ve seen. They are damn fine paintings–bold, strong, studied.
Grey, 1931-32 Emily Carr
untitled (Tree on a Rocky Profile) 1922-25 Emily Carr
A Young Tree, 1931 Emily Carr
This is work to be experienced in person. Many of us have seen her art reproduced on mugs, greeting cards and book bags and think we know it. I have thought, “Oh, yeah. Emily Carr. Eccentric west coast woman painting trees.” Then I encounter some of these paintings and think, “Wow. Gorgeous. Lush. Remarkable…….. I wish she hadn’t had such a struggle to make a living, and could have spent more time painting.” (Sad and sobering facts: Carr could not always make a living from her artwork, and spent much time and energy for many years managing tenants in a rental house and engaging in other schemes to earn money. In 2015 one of her paintings sold at auction for $1.53 million. Click here for a National Post article about the sale.)
It seems I have a short memory, for I have expressed the very same views about her paintings in other posts I’ve written. Click here and here to read other brief postings about her works.
untitled, 1931-32 Emily Carr
Abstract Tree Forms, 1931-32 Emily Carr
Emily might be horrified to know her images are on greeting cards, magnets and bookmarks. Or maybe she would have laughed at the irony of it.
On a recent visit to Vancouver, The Art Caravan visited the Vancouver Art Gallery. Sadly, the Cardiff/Miller show, Lost in the Memory Palace, (see August 4 blog entry) was in the tear down/crating stage. (Just imagine their storage issues!)
So….who is Landon Mackenzie? She is a Vancouver based painter, and art professor at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. (You know she’s the ‘real deal’ in Canadian art because she’s been interviewed by Bill Richardson, Vicky Gabereau AND Nora Yonge, those staples of Canadian public radio!) Early in her career, her paintings were justifiably purchased by major collections, like the Art Gallery of Ontario. Her early works are huge; many of the Lost River series are 6.5 x 7.5 feet.
Lost River Series
National Gallery of Canada
Collections of Glenbow Museum and Art Gallery of Ontario
The most surprising thing about this show, for me, was the Emily Carr work. Now, we all know who Emily Carr is…..grande dame (wouldn’t she laugh?!) of Canadian painting. I’ve seen a few Emily Carr paintings in my day (see April 30 blog posting) BUT I was blown away by the powerful paintings displayed here. Wow. This is Emily Carr at her finest.
Old Time Coast Village 1929-1930 oil on canvas
Abstract Tree Forms 1931-1932 oil on paper
Kudos to the VAG for two very strong, non-blockbuster, Canadian content shows. (And, yes! They have a great cafeteria.)
I have to say I was a little skeptical about this show at the Seattle Art Museum. It’s not that I doubt the quality of the shows at SAM, but I have a little bias against Mark Tobey. In her book, Art of Emily Carr, Doris Shadbolt says of Tobey: ” American artist Mark Tobey claimed credit for inspiring Carr’s “great swirling canvases, [and] wonderful tree forms,”
Never mind. Emily was above all the fray. Her comment on Tobey: “He is clever, but he has no soul.”
We can forgive the hubris. The man’s contribution to modernism is significant. The art critic, Clement Greenberg, gave Tobey credit for inventing the overall gestural painting style….not Jackson Pollock! As was the case with the artist Robert Irwin in California, and Emily Carr in Victoria, Tobey’s location in Seattle prevented him from becoming a household name like Jackson Pollock. The abstract expressionists in New York got all the buzz.
Modernism in the Pacific Northwest also highlighted the work of Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan and Guy Anderson. The art is strong, and rooted in deeply held personal philosophies.
The curators at SAM did an excellent job of explaining the historical significance of the these painters. They made it clear how the art was firmly rooted in the political and philosophical movements of the time.
Emily Carr, (1871-1945) belatedly beloved Canadian painter and writer. She lived and worked (nay, toiled) in British Columbia.
James Adams recently wrote a great feature in the Globe and Mail about Koh’s participation in Luminato, the Toronto arts festival. One of Koh’s projects is an homage to dear Emily, at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg (just north of Toronto.) As part of the installation he wrote this haiku….
a way to the light
For Emily Carr Growing straight towards God’s light Seasons forgotten
Not bad for a guy who’s been labelled a “young punk capitalist.” I’m guessing Emily would be honoured.