Emily Carr: New Perspectives

Even though Emily Carr (1871 – 1945) is one of Canada's most renowned artists I knew very little about the woman or her work. All I knew was that she was a painter of totem poles who lived in British Columbia and has an art college named after her. Well, one trip to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa recently fixed my ignorance right up. The substantial exhibit (it took me over one hour to go through it) goes quite a ways towards unraveling the intricate identity of the woman and artist that was Emily Carr. Within the exhibit there is almost 200 pieces, of which 150 are by Carr herself, from different collections throughout Canada, including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Emily Carr is best known as a painter but she also had a career as a writer, dog breeder and a pottery and rug maker. The woman was an artist in the true sense of the word as she used her creative outlets to express what she felt, thought and what preoccupied her. She was a modernist who was inspired by her environment similar to the painters of The Group of Seven. Emily Carr painted throughout most of her life, but there was a period around the turn of the century where she experienced a time of deep cultural distance from those around her and she did little painting. In between the years of 1913 and 1927 Carr made a living renting rooms, breeding dogs and making pottery. Despite all this Carr showed a remarkable knack for growth as an artist and a total dedication to her work. During the 1930s Carr focused on the landscapes of Western Canada. Her paintings of nature all have a quality of energy to them rather than being static portrayals. Much of her expression as an artist reflected her feelings of sexual, social and professional marginalization. She was definitely not the first artist to become interested in depicting the sculptures and totems of the First Nations people of the West Coast, but she is probably the most famous. She went on to also publish 6 books and her journals were published in 1966. She had a great effect on the artistic community in Canada and remains, to this day, the most written about Canadian artist ever.

In 1927 the National Gallery of Canada had a solo exhibit by Emily Carr that was groundbreaking for its time. Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art: Native and Modern gave the public and her peers a glimpse into the mind and heart of the artist. She presented herself as a modernist who was preoccupied with the West Coast natives and environment. This exhibit contains many of the works from that exhibit and allows us to see Carr in the context of her own social and political times. It, the exhibit, is not a traditional chronology of Carr's work rather it presents it in themes. Two particular facets of Carr's modernism are examined: how she subjectively rather than ethnologically felt towards the First Nations carvings she came across and her progressively greater spiritual interpretation of the environment. There is definitely an attempt by the art world to place Carr's works in context to better understand and appreciate them. Because of the thoroughness and quality of the exhibit it is a guarantee that you will come away from it with a greater understanding of Emily Carr the artist and the human being.

Additional Information:
-Website: www.national.gallery.ca
-Location: 380 Sussex Drive, Ottawa
-Phone number: (613) 990 – 1985 or 1 800 319 ARTS
-Admission: Adults: $12.00, seniors and students: $10.00, ages 12-19: $5.00, family (2 adults and 3 kids): $24.00, and under 12: free.

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