‘From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia’ at The Art Gallery of Ontario (April 11 to August 9, 2015)

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A boundless explorer, inquisitive experimenter and thought pioneer, Emily Carr created works of art that reflect the dramatic impact of her encounters with the indigenous cultures and the formidable landscapes of British Columbia in the first half of the 20th century. Breathing new life into Carr’s legendary fascination with the Pacific Northwest through the display of archival materials, paintings and artifacts, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) presents From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia in spring 2015. A joint project and collaboration between London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery and the AGO, the exhibition runs in Toronto from April 11 to August 9, 2015.

Curated by Canadian art critic Sarah Milroy and Ian Dejardin, Sackler Director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia comes to the AGO following its debut at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, where it will be on view from Nov. 1, 2014, to March 8, 2015. Tracing a dramatic journey from darkness to light, and from winter to summer, the exhibition features nearly 100 paintings, watercolours and drawings by Carr, including rarely seen sketches, works drawn from private collections as well as the recently discovered illustrated journal Sister and I in Alaska, in which Carr documented her pivotal 1907 trip up and down the Northwest Coast. Visitors will be invited to explore with Carr as she responds to this landscape and its indigenous communities, searching for a sense of place and self in both her brooding forest scenes and the euphoric skyscapes of her late career.

“Emily Carr, one of Canada’s most beloved and esteemed artists, lived at the intersection of two cultures. This exhibition gives us the opportunity to bring those artistic traditions together and approach her work with a new, contemporary lens,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, the AGO’s director and CEO. “We have culled the best works from institutions across the country and have made no compromises. I’m delighted to collaborate on a project of this calibre with the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Like the artists of the Group of Seven, who made their 2011 London debut at Dulwich in Painting Canada, Carr is poised for discovery by the wider world and for rediscovery here at home.”

In dialogue with Carr’s paintings, the exhibition features more than 40 historic indigenous artifacts from the Pacific Northwest Coast, including masks, baskets and ceremonial objects by Haida, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, Salish, Tsimshian and Tinglit makers.

“Through her art-making, Emily Carr communicated her passion to root herself in a new landscape, finding her path to connection through a reckoning with native culture, which she strived to understand and to honour,” said Sarah Milroy. “Born in Canada to English parents and exposed to the indigenous cultures of the Northwest Coast through her travels and research, Carr demonstrated her attachment to both indigenous culture and European artistic and literary tradition. This exhibition explores Carr’s art and with it the paradoxes of the colonial imagination.”

The exhibition features loans from the Vancouver Art Gallery, Museum of Anthropology at UBC, the National Gallery of Canada and the Royal British Columbia Museum, as well as various Canadian private collections. A catalogue will be available in March 2015, with essays by Dejardin and Milroy as well as contributions from writers and artists Corrine Hunt, Peter Doig, Jessica Stockholder, James Hart, and Marianne Nicolson; leading Carr scholars Charles Hill, Ian Thom, Kathryn Bridge and Gerta Moray; and noted British and Canadian anthropologists Robert Storrie and Karen Duffek.

Review:

When we were kids, my sister had a t-shirt with Emily Carr’s ‘Scorned as Timber, Beloved of Sky’ imprinted onto it.  I saw it for many summers as we hung out in the back garden, coming out of the laundry and the like.  There was something about that print that was solemn, spiritual and yet full of staunch determination.

Over a decade ago I was in the Vancouver Art Gallery and bumped into this painting along with its siblings.  Thinking back I had forgotten how much emotion, isolation and depth is depicted in Emily Carr’s work.  I guarantee you will feel a deep knot begin to twist in your belly as you experience themes of spiritual fortitude, serenity and hope in small glimmers layered onto each brush stroke.

I met ‘Scorned as Timber, Beloved of Sky’ again for the second time in my life at the Art Galley of Ontario last week.  I wonder if I look older to her.

After visiting Portland, OR and Seattle, WA last year, I felt like I was again amongst the trees when perusing the ‘From the Forest to the Sea’.  One cannot help but smell the pine and the fresh ocean air coming off Carr’s pieces when wandering the beautifully curated AGO space.

The pop up experience is punctuated when you come upon the historic indigenous artifacts from the Pacific Northwest Coast. They ache of spirits bellowing tradition and deep rooted First Nation pride.

Canadian pride emanates in Carr’s ode to the totem poles and our First Nation people.  Some of her definitive work can be seen in the totem poles as they gloriously mark their territory in the rocky B.C. landscape.  Carr ensured to carve out First Nation symbolism respectfully in her work.

I enjoyed Carr’s experimental work as she mixed gasoline with paint and the lux yet lazy appearance of her final creations.  The trees in those sequences looked almost drunk in their intent.  Carr had such a wonderful way of personalizing her trees but also spiritually honouring their presence amongst humans.  Her homage to them went beyond being a tree hugger but a champion for their legacy.

The ‘From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia’ exhibition will leave you awe struck and rejuvenated.  I encourage you to visit on your lunch break and take visiting friends and family from out town to see it instead of the usual touristy Toronto spots.  It is an exhibition that will remind you of our cultural fabric whilst also giving us permission to explore those challenging terrains within our own backyards.

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