Celebrate Earth Day with Emily Carr

Beaverbrook Art GalleryApril 14, 20200 Comments


“Nothing is crowded; there is living space for all. Air moves between each leaf. Sunlight plays and dances. Nothing is still now. Life is sweeping through the spaces. Everything is alive. The air is alive. The silence is full of sound. The green is full of colour. Light and dark chase each other. Here is a picture, a complete thought, and there another and there… There are themes everywhere, something sublime, something ridiculous, or joyous, or calm, or mysterious. Tender youthfulness laughing at gnarled oldness. Moss and ferns, and leaves and twigs, light and air, depth and colour chattering, dancing a mad joy-dance, but only apparently tied up in stillness and silence. You must be still in order to hear and see.”

- Emily Carr, September 1935, her private journals (Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr, edited by Greta Moray)

Happy Earth Day, everyone! The passage quoted above was written by Emily Carr in 1935, in a private reflection on her love of the earth and the natural world. Carr was an advocate for the value of the Canadian landscape, and painted it consistently, seeming totally enamoured with it. She was particularly taken with the pacific northwest coast, and painted many forest scenes inspired by her home province of British Columbia.

Doris Shadbolt, an art historian and an expert on Emily Carr, says that Carr’s work speaks to her love of the Canadian wilderness. In an article for The Canadian Encyclopedia, she wrote: “In Carr’s mature paintings, like the great Indian Church (1929) in the Art Gallery of Ontario, nature is a furious vortex of organic growth depicted with curving shapes that create the impression of constant movement and transformation. By comparison, the human element – churches, houses, totem poles – seem small and fragile.”

It is clear that nature takes centre stage in Carr’s work, even in paintings where the subject might superficially appear to be the “human element”.

Pictured above: Indian Church, Emily Carr, 1929. Copyright Art Gallery of Ontario.

Carr’s particular style of painting the Canadian landscape was highly influenced by the two years she spent studying in France. She apprenticed under painters such as Henry Gibb, John Fergusson, and Frances Hodgkins, who helped her evolve from a conservative painter to one who embraced a bright and colourful palette. By the time she returned to Vancouver, Carr’s work had transformed; her depictions of nature had been infused with bright colours and a modernist style.

Emily Carr: Fresh Seeing - French Modernism and the West Coast includes over 50 works by Emily Carr and her teachers, completed during and immediately after her period of study in France (1910-1912). Celebrate Earth Day by looking at our beautiful Canadian wilderness through the eyes of one of Canada’s best-known artists, or take a look out your own window for some artistic inspiration to create a work like Emily Carr’s! Learn more about the exhibition here.

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