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Blue Sky

Blue Sky, 1936
oil on canvas
93.5 x 65.0 cm
The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, The Thomas Gardiner Keir Bequest

Odds and Ends

Odds and Ends, 1939
oil on canvas
67.4 x 109.5 cm
Formerly in the collection of the Greater Victoria Public Library. Transferred to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. This has been made possible through a fund, given by an anonymous donor to the Victoria foundation for the benefit of the Greater Victoria Public Library.

Above the Gravel Pit

Above the Gravel Pit, 1937
oil on canvas
77.2 x 102.3 cm
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust

Scorned as Timber Beloved of the Sky

Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky, 1935
oil on canvas
112.0 x 68.9 cm
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust

Reforestation

Reforestation, 1936
oil on canvas
110.0 x 67.2 cm
The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Gift of the Founders, Robert and Signe McMichael

Stumps and Sky

Stumps and Sky, c.1934
oil on paper
59.5 x 90.0 cm
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust

Landscape

Landscape, c.1935
oil on wove paper, mounted on cardboard
27.0 x 37.0 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Bequest of Arthur Stanley Bourinot, Ottawa, 1969

The Mountain

The Mountain, 1933
oil on canvas
111.4 x 68.0 cm
The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Max Stern, Dominion Gallery, Montreal

Strait of Juan de Fuca

Strait of Juan de Fuca, c.1936
oil on wove paper, mounted on plywood
57.5 x 87.0 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Bequest of Alfred E.H. Petrie, London, Ontario, 2000

Sky

Sky, 1935-1936
oil on wove paper
58.7 x 90.7 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Purchased 1937

The Landscape (1933-1939)

After heeding Lawren Harris's advice that she consider "leaving the totems alone for a year or more" to examine "the tremendous elusive what lies behind," Carr began to focus her attention on the forests, mountains and seascapes that surrounded her Victoria home.1 She no longer had to travel great distances to find appropriate sketching material and in 1933 purchased a caravan (camper), which she named "elephant" and had towed to various locations outside the city.

I had now become independent of Indian material. It was Lawren Harris who first suggested I make this change.

I had become more deeply interested in woods than in villages. In them I was finding something that was peculiarly my own. While working on the Indian stuff I felt a little that I was but copying the Indian idiom instead of expressing my own feelings.

– "Growing Pains" in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 453.

Although Carr had stopped using foliage as a decorative background device in her final totem paintings, her new landscapes rarely showed the stiff volumetric approach of her earlier work. Once she started to experiment with oil on paper, her work ceased to reflect the influence of Harris and Mark Tobey and their geometric formalism. She began to develop her own language to represent the western landscape, and expanded her subject matter to include more than just dense forest, now representing jungle, beach, sea and sky.

Carr's artistic technique changed as well. Instead of thick, sculptural brushstrokes, Carr employed light, swirling strokes that are at times reminiscent of the work of Van Gogh, the German Expressionists and Edvard Munch. Her approach was painterly, and her brushstroke once again became a visible and important component of the composition. Her colour palette was lighter and less monochromatic, and she experimented with bright blues, as in Blue Sky (1936) and Odds and Ends (1939), and with purple hues, as in Above the Gravel Pit (1937).

Her mastery of movement and spontaneity owed a lot to her use of the inexpensive and easily transportable oil-on-paper medium. She could apply the thinned oil paint with fluid ease, which allowed her to use brushstrokes to retain expressive value. The sheerness of the oils helped her to introduce light and air into her work. Her oil-on-paper sketches far outnumber her canvases from the period, but the oils that she composed are almost identical to the source material in intent, mood and composition.

The sketch relating to Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky (1935), for example, closely resembles the finished canvas. The foliage in the sketch is less defined than in the oil painting, but the rhythm, mood and light remain consistent. In both sketch and canvas, the spindly tree and the sky become one, and Carr's use of light creates an impression of ecstasy and transcendence. In many of her oil paintings, she succeeded in retaining the rhythm and spontaneity of her oil-on-paper sketches. In canvases such as Swirl (1937) and Reforestation (1936), the viewer can almost feel the undulating winds as the forest is transformed into a rolling sea of green.

Light becomes central to the paintings, representative of spirituality and infinite possibility. The frightening and antagonistic side of the forest that figured so prominently in her formal period is absent from the work of this time. Now, light emanates from nature's forms, creating a mood of joy and jubilation. In such works as Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky and Above the Gravel Pit, Carr locates spiritual energy within nature itself. Even when she depicts pillaged and devastated trees, as in Stumps and Sky (c.1934), Forest Clearing (1939) and Trees in the Sky (1939), the mood is not one of despair, but of renewal and regeneration. The swirling spirals that make up the sky in Stumps and Sky hint at a spiritual presence, and the tall, skinny second-growth pines in Trees in the Sky represent the cycle of nature and rebirth.

God is in them all. Now I know that is all that matters. The only thing worth striving for is to express God. Every living thing is God made manifest. All real art is the eternal seeking to express God, the one substance out of which all things are made. Search for the reality of each object, that is, its real and only beauty; recognize our relationship with all life; say to every animate and inanimate thing "brother"; be at one with all things, finding the divine in all; when one can do all this, maybe then one can paint. In the meantime one must go steadily on with open mind, courageously alert, waiting always for a lead, constantly watching, constantly praying, mediating much and not worrying.

– "Hundreds and Thousands" in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p.675.

Images of mountains proved to be the greatest challenge for Carr: her journals contain a number of passages that detail her struggle to infuse such a solid form with movement and energy. She is most successful when she situates the mountain in the distance, as in Landscape (c.1935), and less successful in works such as The Mountain (1933). Despite the light radiating from the sky, the bulky presence of the mountain dominates the canvas and lacks the rhythm present in much of her other work.

Direction, that's what I'm after, everything moving together, relative movement, sympathetic movement, connected movement, flowing, liquid, universal movement, all directions summing up in one grand direction, leading the eye forward, and satisfying. So to control direction of movement that the whole structure sways, vibrates and rocks together, not wobbling like a bowl of jelly.

– "Hundreds and Thousands" in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 701.

Carr's paintings progress toward the depiction of infinite space, and in the final works she produced before her heart attack in 1937, the sky predominates. In Strait of Juan de Fuca (c.1936), for example, she achieves a sense of infinite space by using colours and brushstrokes that make no distinction between the sea and the sky. Sky (1935-1936) has a similar effect: all movement originates from the bright light that emerges from a parting in the sky. In Overhead (1936) and Victoria Sight Across the Water (1937), Carr has created a view of an infinite sky shimmering with light. In these canvases, energy is two-directional, originating in both landscape and sky and flowing between the two.

In these works, Carr finally achieved the spirituality in her work that she had been searching for since 1927 when she was so profoundly moved by the work of Lawren Harris. Her landscape canvases and oil-on-paper sketches glisten with spiritual energy and indicate that Carr had finally found transcendence and peace. Her work, at last, is her own: she has discovered her own unique language to depict the power and exuberance of the western landscape.

Lawren's work influenced me. Not that I ever aspired to paint like him but I felt that he was after something that I wanted too. Once I used to think, "How would Lawren express this or that?" Now I don't think that any more. I say, "Emily, what do you make of this or that?" I don't try to sieve it through his eye, but through mine.

– "Hundreds and Thousands," in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 738.

1 Maria Tippett, Emily Carr: A Biography (Toronto: Stoddart, 1994), p. 167.