It would be difficult to imagine an artist more deserving of tribute than Emily Carr. The depth of her commitment to communicate the wild grandeur of west coast nature is for myself and many others, pure inspiration.
The determination and perseverance of this Victorian woman isolated in her vision on the west coast of Canada is an incredible story, and for many an artist it is as talisman. The power of her unique and distinct personality drove her legacy and she has become a Canadian Frida Kahlo, our Georgia O’Keefe.
In one of Jack Shadbolt’s painting classes, I recall him saying ‘Any painter working on the West Coast has to deal with Emily Carr. We all have to deal with Emily’.
My connection to Emily Carr began on the East side of Vancouver in the winter of 1949.
As I remember, my name had made it through the waiting list of the Children’s Saturday morning art classes in the basement of the Vancouver Art Gallery and my father, for whatever reason, couldn’t return until noon. A fortuitous set-up ... for alone I could wander through the formidably large rooms filled with the biggest paintings I’d ever seen. My resting place became a long black leather bench in a back room where I would lie undisturbed, before open skies, breathing in blue and the darkest forests imaginable ... I was with Emily.
This poem ‘Awakening’, describes my first ‘big experience’ while painting the following summer.
It must’ve been before my 10th birthday
the warmth of braids were on my neck
Alone in a park far from home
Standing in front of an easel
(tall compared to my height)
yellow paint trickling down
soft paper before me
stray rivulets - never mind
My full attention was on the line my brush had made
Effortless, fresh, undulating, new,
a magical occurrence
This golden line had volume, form,
a recognizable shape
It mirrored a sunlit branch
the Arbutus arc above me
My eyes blinked back tears, this was my brush
my tree, my sunlight-
and yet it wasn’t mine at all
There was only wet yellow, wooden brush in hand
I stood in a soft space
with enormous roots.
Until recently, I had not realized how prophetic Jack Shadbolt's words would become!
My studio is now in the centre of Emily Carr's neighbourhood: a stone's throw from her family home, her studio the House of All-Sorts, her favourite walks and painting spots, and the hospital where she died, now the James Bay Inn.
Also close by, Emily’s burial place, the Ross Bay Cemetery.