Deep Forest, circa 1931
oil on canvas
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust
Advanced public viewing Dec 19 and 20
Here's a quick look at the exhibition as reported by
The Vancouver Art Gallery is home to the richest collection of Emily Carr works in the world. We are fortunate to have major pieces from throughout her career, but our collection is particularly rich in her forest paintings from the 1930s, both canvases and works in a medium she began using during that period, oil on paper. Her images depicted the coastal forest landscape, generally around Carr's Victoria home, in a way previously unseen in British Columbian art.
Far from feeling that the forests of the West Coast were a difficult subject matter, Carr exulted in the symphonies of greens and browns found in the natural world. She entered the forest to make her work and saw nature in ways unlike her fellow British Columbians, who perceived it as either untamed wilderness or a plentiful source of lumber. An undated passage from her notebooks reads: Here is a picture, a complete thought–and there another–and there.There is everywhere something sublime, something ridiculous or joyous or calm or mysterious. Tender youngness laughing at gnarled oldness, moss and ferns and leaves and twigs, light and air, depth and colour–chatting, dancing a mad joy dance, only apparently tied up in stillness and silence.
Carr's remarkably personal and spiritual vision of the forest is seen in these works. While her art was strongly influenced by modernist ideas–which came from her reading and looking at the work of artists such as Mark Tobey and Lawren Harris, among others–her synthesis of the spiritual and natural is uniquely her own.
In a passage from her 1934 journal, Carr wrote: What do these forests make you feel? Their weight and density, their crowded orderliness. There is scarcely room for another tree and yet there is space around each. They are profoundly solemn yet upliftingly joyous. You can find everything in them that you look for, showing how absolutely full of truth, how full of reality the juice and essence of life are in them. They teem with life, growth, expansion…
While others thought of the forests as impenetrable and unappealing, Carr saw the vitality of the natural world and seized the opportunity to express her vision. The paintings of the forest profoundly shaped not only Carr's own work but the way British Columbians perceived the natural world. No subsequent painter can depict the forests of British Columbia without acknowledging her achievement.
Whether in the deep mystery of Grey, which glows with an inner light, the intensity of the greens seen in Cedar or the deep blue of the vaulting sky in Above the Trees, these works were profoundly radical in their day. Carr's paintings provided a new paradigm, a new way of seeing the landscape of the coastal rainforest.
Emily Carr: Deep Forest is organized by the Vancouver Gallery and curated by Ian M. Thom, Senior Curator–Historical.
Michael O'Brian Family Foundation