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 Diana Billings Art Blog

Emily Carr- Why I like her artwork.

Emily Carr- as Canadians we should all know who she is. She was born in Victoria, BC on December 13, 1871 to parents who came to Canada from England. Her parents had traveled across Europe, Caribbean and America before finding the perfect place to live. Emily had 8 siblings, all raised in Victoria and all attended public school. Her father thought this would be a more well rounded education then the traditional English boarding school. This worked very well for Emily who was sensitive and artistic. Emily’s father encouraged her creativity.

As an adult Emily Carr attended a number of art schools over a 10 year period, starting with the “California School of Design” in California in the year of 1890. Here Emily learned the classical, traditional styles of drawing and painting. Emily was there for three years but was not feeling inspired, thinking her work was hum-drum. She returned to Victoria. where she taught art until she had money to travel to England. In 1899 she enrolled at “Westminster School of Art” in London. There she learned more traditional styles, and studied anatomy, life drawing and clay modelling. Again feeling unhappy with her work, Emily left to travel Europe. In Paris she went to the Louvre. The experience was inspiring for her, seeing the art of the Masters and Impressionists. That same year Carr returned to England to study at “Porthmear Studio” in St. Ives, Cornwall. Focusing on plein air techniques, the primary teaching of the studio. Feeling stifled again and having negative critiques from the instructor she left after 8 months. Emily moved to the artist colony of “Bushey Hertfordshire”. The teachings here were academic in nature, while Emily was looking for inspired teaching. She then moved to a more bohemian studio, “Meadows Studio”, where she was tutored by John Whitely.

Having returned to Victoria in 1904, Emily took a trip to Alaska. This trip really made Emily appreciate and be inspired by the wilds of the west coast. Back in Victoria she painted and saved money to return to Europe, this time Paris. Emily felt that Paris was where it was at for art. She wanted to learn the “New Art”. She attended “Academie Colarssi”. Emily soon left for private instruction from Scottish artist John Duncan Fergusson. In Paris she met Henri Matisse and Gertrude Stein, both encouraged her to pursue her passion for painting the First Nations of British Columbia. In Paris Emily was experimenting with different forms of modern art, Fauvism, Expressionism and Cubism. In 1911 Emily’s work was shown at “Salon d’Automne” in Paris, gaining recognition for her work. Emilys’ art was transforming, she was developing into the painter she wanted to be. By the end of her time in Paris, Emily knew she needed to be back in her home Victoria, the place she loved.

Upon her returning to Victoria, Emily traveled extensively around the northwest coast of British Columbia from1911 to 1913. Working in the new French style of painting, Fauvism. Emily painted en plein air and from photographs. She used watercolour and oil paints. Emilys’ work was vividly colourful, and full of active brushwork. At this time she settled in Victoria permanently. For 15 years Emily painted little, but did clay work, made rugs, wrote, raised dogs and ran a boarding house. Emily had tried to have her own shows and to make a living, but her art was not yet accepted by the art community of Victoria. In 1927, she was asked to join an art show with the Group of Seven taking place in Ottawa. Here is when things changed for Emily, finally gaining the recognition in Canada she deserved. Changing her life, Emily was painting again like she hadn’t for years. She was inspired again to express herself and the love she felt for the Native Cultures of the Canadian West Coast. Lawren Harris, a member of the Group of Seven, told Emily that she was “one of them”.

Emily Carr was an artist, writer, potter, rug maker, dog breeder and a feminist. She pushed though the patriarchal society of the time, to pursue her life passion and what made her happy.

Not conforming to societal norms, she travelled as a single woman through England, Europe and the wilds of the west coast of Canada. Emily attended schools that had been dominated by men for centuries.

Emily Carr should be an inspiration to all women. This is one reason I admire Emily Carr. I find Emily Carrs’ art inspiring. When I see her paintings I have the feeling of wildness and openness, the space is vast. Emily painted the trees of the west coast as the really are. When you see a Cedar or a Douglas Fir, with their slight bend and wind blown limbs you know she saw nature, in it’s true form. She loved those trees. The villages and totems she painted are real and alive. Emilys’ use of colour and brushwork shows the life of the forest, the movement of the air, clouds and trees. The raven and the totem are alive, the totems are ready to take a step.

I do feel passionate for her art.

Her legacy is important to Canada, not only as a woman artist breaking the norms, but as a modern Canadian artist. An artist showing the world that First Nations Culture is important.

Emily Carr knew what she wanted, like other women artist of her day. Her skill and talent are as good as any well known artist. Emily Carr helped pave the path for other women in Canada.

Emily Carr, one of Canada’s leading women artists of the Twentieth Century.

Keep well - Diana

I would like to acknowledge, Art Canada Institute for their fabulous website focusing on Canadian artists. Learn more about Emily Carr here.

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