From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia is the first major solo exhibition to take place in Europe dedicated to Canadian artist and writer Emily Carr (1871-1945).
From the Forest to the Sea is jointly organised by Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Art Gallery of Ontario in collaboration with the National Gallery of Canada, Vancouver Art Gallery and the Royal BC Museum, BC Archives.
The display is co-curated by Ian Dejardin, Sackler Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery, and Toronto-based art critic and writer, Sarah Milroy. The curators are extremely grateful to James Hart for his advice in choosing First Nation artefacts for the exhibition. Hart is one of the Northwest Coast’s most highly respected artists and an expert on First Nations art. He is also a Chief of the Haida people.
Landscapes and Seascapes of British Columbia Are Shown With Indigenous First Nations Artefacts
The exhibition features over 140 landscapes and seascapes. It explores Emily Carr’s experiences of the aboriginal settlements of British Columbia.
Also on show are more than 30 indigenous objects including masks, baskets and ceremonial objects by Haida, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, Salish, Tsimshian and Tlingit makers.
These objects give a valuable insight into the life and landscapes of British Columbia.
The show also features a carefully chosen group of Carr’s writings, previously unseen, including the artist’s journal of her 1907 trip up and down the Northwest Coast, entitled Sister and I in Alaska.
Through her writings and paintings, we see how Carr’s artistic style developed, and how she became eventually one of Canada’s most popular artists and a celebrated author.
Carr was a committed modernist whom American artist Georgia O’Keeffe once called a ″darling of the women’s movement.″
Emily Carr – About the Artist
Born in Victoria, British Columbia, Emily studied in San Francisco (1890-92) and at Westminster School of Art, England (1899). Whilst living in France from about 1910 she came into contact with the Fauves and much of her early work reflects their influence.
At the time she was somewhat unappreciated as an artist and almost gave up art completely for many years.
After returning to Canada Carr came into contact with the Group of Seven, a group of Canadian landscape painters active during the 1920s and 1930s. Founded in 1919 by Lawren Harris, the group’s members included F. H. Varley, Arthur Lismer, Frank Johnston, A. Y. Jackson, J. E. H. MacDonald and F. Carmichael.
The group stressed design and colour, focussing specifically on Canadian landscapes. Through her association with the group Emily realised that she did indeed have a future as an artist and during the 1930s she mostly painted the forests and landscapes of British Columbia. She believed the beauty of nature proved the existence of God and aimed to reproduce this beauty in her paintings.
Carr suffered her first heart attack in 1937. Lacking the physical energy that painting required, she decided to develop her writing career, publishing her first book, entitled Klee Wyck, in 1941. This collection of short stories about her first-hand experiences with aboriginal people received a Governor General’s Award. Six more books followed, four of them published after her death. The books, all autobiographical, have appeared in more than twenty languages and her writing has won critical acclaim throughout the world.
Exhibition Shows Carr’s Artistic Journey
Carr’s work, rooted in the forests and landscapes of British Columbia, reflects her profound love of the region. Her unique and powerful scenes depict shining swirling seascapes, brooding organic forests and brightly lit skies.
The display starts with early forest scenes such as the very large Totem and Forest and concludes with a room entitled Out to the Sea, Up to the Sky, featuring seascapes such as Untitled (Seascape, 1935).
In Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr, Carr writes about painting the totem. She describes how you need an initial idea, or a feeling, about what you want to paint. You must focus on whatever it is that inspires you.
She says: ″…you must discover the pervading direction, the pervading rhythm, the dominant, recurring forms, the dominant colour, but always the thing must be top in your thoughts. Everything must lead up to it, cloth it feed it, balance it, tenderly fold it, till it reveals itself in all the beauty of its idea.″
An Interview With Co-Curator Ian Dejardin
Ian Dejardin is the Sackler Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery. Born in Scotland, he graduated with a Master’s (Hons) in History of Art. After starting his career at the Royal Academy of Arts, Dejardin moved to English Heritage, where he was Curator of Paintings for the London region from 1990-1997.
He went to Dulwich Picture in 1997 and currently holds the post of Sackler Director. Dejardin has led an extensive programme of international exhibitions and is well respected as a curator, including most recently Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven.
Ian Dejardin speaks exclusively to Decoded Arts about the exhibition:
Decoded Arts: Our readers are always very interested to know what’s involved in an exhibition like this – how long did it take to plan the exhibition and bring it to fruition?
Ian Dejardin: Well, I can tell you that exactly because we started talking about Emily Carr as a follow-up to the Group of Seven during the run of the Group of Seven show in 2011. So the answer is three years.
Decoded Arts: What would you say is the biggest challenge in mounting an exhibition like this?
Ian Dejardin: It’s exceptionally difficult, particularly when you’re dealing with an artist on the other side of the planet. Obviously, a lot of the works come from Vancouver. Her greatest works are in several galleries, the Gallery of Vancouver, Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal BC archives. So getting those things over from Canada was an administrative nightmare.
Decoded Arts: What were your criteria in choosing the First Nation artefacts?
Ian Dejardin: We went for quality. We didn’t want the First Nations artefacts to be in the show to say ‘Oh look at these wonderful things. This is what the wonderful Emily Carr made of them’. They had to be here as masterpieces in their own right. So we haven’t gone for objects that you can then trace in her paintings. We wanted them to represent the parallel culture. We went for absolute quality, and this is where Chief Jim Hart came in really useful. He was able to go in with Sarah, who of course was born in British Columbia, and say ‘this is an astonishing piece. Let’s have it in the show’.
Decoded Arts: I understand Emily Carr was a difficult person to get on it. Can you expand on that?
Ian Dejardin: Yes… it’s probably unfair, but she was famously difficult and she did have problems, I think. For instance, when she was in England, she didn’t like the restrictive nature of the English, their kind of rigid habits. She loved the countryside but found towns very difficult. She hated crowds, she didn’t like that can of thing. She was clearly an individual, a real doughty individual, very determined, very sure of herself in some ways, and very out-of-place in Victoria. You have to realise that as a woman artist in Victoria, in the 1900s, people found that difficult. So, frankly, I think she grew into a battle axe, a formidable battle axe, and good for her I think!
Decoded Arts: Do you feel that being such a battle axe caused her lack of recognition in the early days?
Ian Dejardin: No, I don’t think so – I think her lack of recognition was simply because there was nobody there to recognise her. As she said herself, she’s on the edge of nowhere. There were art societies in Victoria, Vancouver, where she did exhibit continuously. She always exhibited but I think people just didn’t have the wherewithal to understand what they were seeing, so she didn’t have the respect that she wanted, but she was very determined. She wasn’t going to change her style to suit them.
Decoded Arts: I love the way you’ve set up the first room with all the forest paintings and the dark green walls. If Emily were here today what do you think she’d say?
Decoded Arts: She’d probably curse us for having got everything wrong. She would probably be bloody difficult! But I hope the idea of Emily Carr and her paintings, seventy years after she died, coming to Dulwich Picture Gallery which is the kind of birthplace of the modern museum, alongside Rembrandt and Rubens and everything else. I think even she would have thought ‘my goodness, I’ve made it’.
Decoded Arts: So, do you have a favourite piece?
Ian Dejardin: Well… I think that changes every day, I’ve got lots of them, but, I think the one I would cheerfully go off with, if I was given the chance, would be the tree, Happiness. It’s an explosion of yellow, it makes me happy too.
Emily Carr and First Nations Artefacts at Dulwich Picture Gallery
From the Forest to the Sea looks at how Emily Carr interpreted and represented her experiences during her travels through British Columbia and her frequent contact with aboriginal peoples.
From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia is on show at Dulwich Picture Gallery from 1st November 2014 to 8th March 2015.