Today, my Toadly friends, we are immersing ourselves in the art of Canadian artist Emily Carr, a visionary artist ahead of her time, whose paintings celebrate the wild beauty of Vancouver Island.
Ms Carr, born in Victoria, B.C., in 1871, is a national treasure. Her work was inspired by the spectacular landscapes surrounding her, as well as by her interest in the Northwest Coast First Nations. A single woman who struggled to get by, she was outspoken and considered eccentric, as all the best poets and artists are, in my humble opinion.
Orphaned in her early teens, she persuaded her guardians to send her to the California School of Design when she turned eighteen. After a long illness, in 1910, she went to France to break free of conventional painting and to explore the new modernist art. There, she developed her own colourful post-impressionist style and brought it back to Victoria in 1912.
At a time when aboriginal culture was thought to be dying, Carr had a strong interest in documenting the culture, their houses, totems and masks. She made a trip to what is now Haida Gwaii in 1912. The material she gathered there was source material for one of the two great themes of her painting career: the material presence of Aboriginal culture, and the wild landscape of the west coast of Canada.
Her life as a single woman, and an artist, was difficult. She could not support herself with her painting, so she ran a boarding house for financial survival, and did little painting during the next fifteen years.
But at 57, her work was finally recognized, and she returned to her art with renewed vigor. With deepening vision, she began to focus on nature themes.
She was one of the only recognized female painters of that era, and is one of the Group of Seven, the famous group of artists whose work is still revered today.
A heart attack in 1937 began a decline in the artist's health. She died in Victoria in 1945.
Her Victorian house in James Bay, Victoria, has been restored and is now a national and provincial historic site.
Emily Carr House
Her work is in the B.C. Archives and the B.C. Museum. The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria has some of her work on display, as does the Vancouver Art Gallery. In her lifetime, she produced one hundred paintings, one thousand sketches, a book of short stories and four autobiographical works, two published posthumously. The book of stories, about her experiences with First Nations, was titled Klee Wyck; it won a Governor General’s award.
Emily Carr is now appreciated as an important twentieth century artist and a Canadian icon. In 2001-2002, she was included alongside Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kalo in a critically acclaimed touring exhibition titled Places of Their Own, organized by the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.
Totem and Forest
For your prompt, choose whichever of her paintings appeals to you and write your poem (or choose your own at Emily Carr Artworks, including the painting and its source with your poem)
Imagine yourself as an artist in the late 1800’s, with a passion for art but struggling to make a living, and speak to us with that voice. Have fun!