Emily Carr scholar Kerry Mason discusses Carr’s evolution as an artist by highlighting aspects of her training and techniques as well as her influences and by referencing several of Carr’s paintings at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
Kerry Mason, History in Art Instructor, University of Victoria
1927 - 1945
Victoria, British Columbia, CANADA
© 2007, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. All Rights Reserved.


Hello, I’m Kerry Mason, I teach history in art and the University of Victoria. My specialty is Emily Carr and Northwest Coast Art.

For this brief video I’m going to focus on one chapter of Emily Carr’s fascinating life and works, her mature period. It begins with Emily Carr’s participation in the “Exhibition of West Coast Art” in December, 1927 where she meets the Group of Seven, and the period ends with her death , March 2nd, 1945.

Of the group of seven, Lawren Harris in particular had a profound effect on her. His paintings, she said, spoke to her very soul. He encouraged her to simplify her forms, eliminate the non-essentials and exaggerate the important. His enthusiasm for her work boosted her confidence. The support and encouragement from all the members of the Group of Seven helped propel her to the heights she achieved.

In the late 1920’s Carr as also influenced by the American abstractionist, Mark Tobey, who shared his enthusiasm for Braque, Picasso, and Cubism in general. With Tobey, Carr concentrated in creating more contrast in her work and also experimented in breaking the subject into geometric forms.

Two works from the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria which predate Carr’s mature period illuminate themes and styles as well as subject matter of her later works.

Totem Walk, Sitka, a 1907 watercolour from her trip to Alaska is an example of Carr’s early, academy base representational style and also and early example of two of the main themes in Carr’s work which came to full expression in her “mature period”: First Nations subject matter and forest landscapes.

We see in Brittany Coast, a wonderful watercolour in which Carr has embraced Post Impressionism in the loose and vigorous brushwork, vibrant colour and realization of light. In Fauve style she has made the leap from a detailed, realistic study to an emotional, spontaneous response.

The lessons learned in France come through in Carr’s much later and exuberant paintings of Broom, Beacon Hill Park, and the sky paintings such as Sea and Sky, all of which were painted in the last 15 years of her life. Above the Gravel Pit is another oil on paper work where we see the quick brush strokes, rich colour, disregard for detail and supreme manifestation of emotion in the energetic composition. These 1930s - 1945 paintings are spiritual paintings. Many are ecstatic expressions of Carr’s personal connection with God. For Carr, nature was the manifestation of God and the paintings of the sky and forest landscapes of her mature period are celebrations of this.

Emily Carr’s death at the age of 73 marked the passing of a courageous, vibrant woman whose talents live on in the legacy of her writings and art. At the time of her death Emily Carr was recognized as Canada’s foremost woman artist/writer; today her stature as one of Canada’s greatest artists continues to grow.

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