The last Emily Carr book at my library is Unsettling Encounters by Gerta Moray. It’s 400 pages long. It’s a hardcover, 22.6 x 30.9 cm, and 1.8 Kg (according to Amazon). It basically lives on my bedside table, and I read a chapter a night. This is the second time I’ve borrowed it, and I’m gonna have to renew it again to finish reading it.
In the same time, I’ve read a half dozen books on my iPad.
I love books. I love paper. But I also love choice.
Because I was going to be downtown to meet some friends, I went a little early so I could visit Emily Carr at the Vancouver Art Gallery. That’s the benefit of being a member–sometimes I go to the gallery to see just one floor, even one painting. They’re in a transition period right now, so 2/4 floors was all there was to see on Saturday.
The VAG holds the largest collection of Carr’s work. The fourth floor is usually hers. Until December, it’s an exhibit of her forest paintings, my favourite paintings. I haven’t seen Scorned/Beloved on a wall in years. That tree trunk up above is an early painting, as Emily was putting aside her totem pole project to explore the BC wilderness. That tree trunk below is a photograph by Karin Bubaš, a Vancouver artist in the second floor exhibit, Pictures from Here.
I only did a quick walk through the second floor (I’ll be back), but Bubaš’s photos struck me as I had just come out of Emily’s forest. It’s the same forest. They’re the same trees. Bubaš placed women in all of her photographs, faces obscured, like my own reflection in that selfie above.
We’re all making the same art, but in different ways.
I’m getting to the end of my list of Emily Carr books to read. Today I finished reading the catalogue from the 2006 retrospective. Most of what I’ve read so far has been biography or Emily’s own words, whether true or not. I think it was right to read the criticism second because I’m finding answers to the questions that came up while I read the primary sources. Next I tackle Gerta Moray’s massive PhD thesis on Emily Carr and her cultural appropriation. It’s more timely than ever as Canada barrels towards the celebration of 150 years of confederation, as we wonder if anything has changed.
What I am looking for I must work out for myself. It is between God and me. Laziness made me desire to look at the pictures of the others, to try and pick up short-cut recipes that others have used…instead of going straight to the thing itself.
The more I read about her, and the more I look at her pictures, the more I love how Emily Carr painted the land and the sky, not the totem poles. She found herself very late in life. My favourite paintings are from the 1930s when she was in her 60s. It makes me feel good about the future, that it’s never too late for great things to happen, and I need more of that hope in my life.
I saw at my feet small black cat rubbing ecstatically round my shoes.
“Did you bring her all the way uncrated?”
“I did not bring her at all; does she not belong here?”
“Not a cat in the village.”
Wherever she belonged, the cat claimed me. It was as if she had expected me all her life and was beyond glad to find me. She followed my every step. We combed the district later trying to find her owner. No one had seen the creature before. At the end of my two months’ visit in the Cariboo I gave her to a kind man in the store, very eager to have her. Man and cat watched the stage lumber away. The man stooped to pick up his cat, she was gone–no one ever saw her again.
Emily Carr, GROWING PAINS (244-5).
She didn’t just love animals–dogs, parrots, rats, monkeys. Emily also had a black cat familiar.
I took an accidental vacation from everything over spring break. Even though I took three Emily Carr books with me to my parents’s house, I didn’t read any of them. Granted, one of those books is a hardback catalogue sized beast called Unsettling Encounters by Gerta Moray. It’s the critique of Carr’s cultural appropriation I’ve been wanting to read, but it’s definitely a couch book. I’m almost wishing for an epub.
As I continue importing old blog posts over here, I’ve been finding a lot of songs on YouTube to replace dead links. Out of curiosity, I searched Emily Carr, wanting to see the Heritage Minute, but also whatever else popped up. This 15 minute NFB film, directed by Graham McInnes, is what I found. Directed in 1946, the year after Carr died, it shares many of her attitudes. It presents the aboriginal people of BC as a “dying” culture.
And then there’s this, the closing paragraph:
The canvases of Emily Carr are themselves an inspiration. They show that if an artist feels overwhelmingly the urge to paint, it matters little that he works alone, for from the images of his land, he can create paintings that will always arouse deep emotions in the hearts of his fellow men.
Like, are you fucking kidding me? It matters a lot that SHE works alone, because women didn’t do that in Emily Carr’s lifetime. It matters a lot that HER paintings aroused feelings in the hearts of HER fellow WOMEN. When we’re talking about Emily Carr, who did everything she could to remain independent, it matters a lot that you give her that credit. She’s the most famous artist from BC, and she is a woman. Don’t take that away from us.
Because of spring break and most of my students going on vacation, I’ve had Tuesday and Wednesday off these two weeks. My parents are on vacation, too, so I’m house- and cat-sitting. Last week was also my first free week after finishing the yoga teacher program (more on that soon!) so I used that as an excuse to stay at home, eat out of my mom’s fridge, and be lazy, making up a six-month free time debt.
This week, though, I was determined to get out on my days off and do something. Today, it rained again, but that was OK because my grandma called for help getting their house ready for when they move in May. They’ve spent more than 40 years in that house. It’s always impossible to leave my grandma’s house empty-handed, but now that she’s sorting through 40 years worth of crap, it’s even harder. I came home with two boxes and one big shopping bag.
Tomorrow, though, is all for me. Regardless of the weather, I’m going downtown, I’m going to the Vancouver Art Gallery, and I’m going to visit the Emily Carrs.
In week four of The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron asks you to give up reading. To be honest, I’ve been looking forward to this. I quit Twitter last summer because I wanted to focus on creating instead of consuming. But I’ve fallen into some bad habits lately. I’m still reading books, but I’m also looking at the Internet too much. More than I want to be. I’ve been using television as a distraction. So I’m using this week as an excuse to do a media blackout.
No Internet no television no music no reading. I plan to go to work, write at Starbucks, get outside as much as the weather allows, do yoga, meditate, just be. If I like it, I might even go to the end of March. I’ve been reading Emily Carr since December, and I want to write a book. The 72nd anniversary of her death is in March, but a more likely deadline is June, halfway through the year. If I can write a book for June, then a book for December, that’ll feel like a good year
The roundness of the world is true! and the ends meet.
In 1930, two German artists came to Victoria, via New York, to visit Emily Carr. This is a quote she attributes to one of them, Gerhard, in her story “The Round World.” Emily was born in 1871 and died in 1945, so she lived through both world wars, though far away from the action. Canada was a member of the allies, because we were still a part of England, but Emily had no male relatives left. War must have felt very far away to her.
We were People and the world was round. There were no seams in her. She was all of a piece.
It took a favourite preacher with a radio show for Emily to finally buy a radio for her home. She writes about the novelty in her journal, and to those of us living today, it sounds hilarious. She wasn’t afraid of the thing, but it was strange, even for a woman like Emily who did most everything in her life differently. It brought the world closer at the exact moment hers was growing smaller–because of age, health, and deaths in her family.
Even after her radio brought news of World War II, Emily continued to believe in the roundness of the world. She painted and wrote so we could see it, too.
A plain brown cake is good enough but an iced cake with Hundreds and Thousands over her snow is something beyond good enough. The gay little nothings, the Hundreds and Thousands, have transformed it. It is the same in life, even a life which we thought has been drab while we were living it; if you look back and pick out the little events nearly forgotten, you find, that each has touched you or teased you or did something funny which had helped to make life interesting, crunchy, sweet, delicious.
I’m thinking a lot about how Emily wrote her life. The brain loves to find patterns, but I can’t help but see in her journals and books, in the short sharp descriptions of moments, scenes, conversations, I can’t help but see the foreshadowing of blogging. She wrote the way she painted, quickly, in the moment, in layers, then she continued going over the same ground until she got it right. She was a constant editor, almost to her detriment. Emily was never really happy with the final product, even after it was published. She was never sure it was any good, not until someone told her so, someone she trusted.
Artists make a lot of art in our heads, in our notebooks, on scrap pieces of paper, and in text fields that sit in drafts instead of being published. But to me, blogging has always been about freedom, about putting something out there without worry. Nobody is reading this now. Maybe by the time they do, I’ll be a little bit better.