There are a number of ways in which one can get to know Emily Carr.
First, for the bookish, via her own writing.
Klee Wick (1941), The Book of Small (1942), The House of All Sorts (1944), and, published posthumously, Growing Pains (1946), Pause (1953), The Heart of a Peacock (1953), and Hundreds and Thousands (1966).
(And, for the determinedly bookish, add to those titles an assortment of books about her, like Doris Shadbolt’s classic work or Maria Tippett’s biography or Susan Vreeland’s novel The Forest Lover.)
If you are near Victoria, British Columbia, you can even visit her family home. (Complete with cats.)
Or you could simply read Nicholas Debon’s Four Pictures by Emily Carr.
Building upon the theory that there are four distinct phases in the artist’s work, Debon has selected four works as representative of these stages, each followed by a few pages of comics about the artist’s experiences at that time.
When she was twenty-seven, Emily first travelled to a remote aboriginal village on Vancouver Island’s coast, in Ucluelet. The boat captain in the panels represents the typical prejudiced perspective: “All you’re find here is a bunch of miserable people…too much drinking, no work and plenty of sickness.” But she continued to observe and paint and returned to this source inspiration throughout her life as an artist.
Autumn in France
Although she studied in Victoria, San Francisco and London, when she travelled to Paris, she met Harry Gibb, who introduces her to a Paris “bursting with talented artists from all over Europe: Spanish, Italians, Germans, Russians…who have decided that they are finished with traditional art”. When he takes her to a friend’s gallery, she discovers Matisse, Braque, Modiglianai, Picasso, Cézanne, Léger, Chagall and Duchamp.
She is invited to contribute to an exhibition at the National Gallery in Ottawa and, shortly afterwards, travels to Toronto, where she speaks with members of the Group of Seven, most notably Lawren Harris, who invites her to the Severn Building to discuss his belief in “a universal sense of order, unity and proportion in everything around us” which profoundly inspires Emily Carr.
Beloved of the Sky
“In her mid-fifties, she now no longer felt alone in her artistic and spiritual quest and, despite failing health, she embarked on a period of extraordinary creativity.” Travelling in her “elephant” (her trailer), she immersed herself in the “soothing, eternal beauty of Mother Nature”.
In the author’s note about these four segments, Nicolas Debon explains that he relied on The Collected Writings of Emily Carr, amongst other books (he adds Paula Blanchard’s The Life of Emily Carr, which I do not have on my shelves) and based the dialogue and events in this volume on fact, but admits that he had to invent in a few instances.
What is clear for any viewer, whether experienced or introduced to Emily Carr for the first time with this volume, is the sense of expansiveness as the pages turn.
At first, in the first three segments actually, the artist appears in small images, bordered panels with tidy printing.
Near the end of the volume, however, Emily Carr’s creative vision spills forth; she is somehow both smaller and larger at the same time, smaller amidst all those beautiful trees that she painted and larger for her conviction.
Four Pictures by Emily Carr is a concise introduction, and if Nicolas Debon’s intent is to whet the reader’s and viewer’s appetite for more, it is a resounding success.
Day 41 of 45:
There’s another new theme today, the last for this project? I think you’ll guess it, but maybe that depends what you’ve been drinking with your eggnog this season. (Shh, don’t tell, I’ll ask you another time.) Hope you’re enjoying your holidays!