A strong affinity for the natural beauty of western Canada and First Nations culture is clearly visible in the work of Emily Carr, one of Canada’s best-loved artists. Her point of view resonates strongly today, and it seems to have inspired this fresh take on her work, edited by Ian Dejardin, director of London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, and Sarah Milroy, a Canadian art critic. The book opens with a map of the West Coast showing the original place names of aboriginal settlements on the mainland, Vancouver Island, and Haida Gwaii. Dejardin offers a thorough – albeit brief – outline of Carr’s life, which is followed by Milroy’s excellent piece on Carr’s relevance to Canadians and an interview with indigenous artist Corrine Hunt, whose great-grandfather met Carr on her travels in the region. The book goes on to weave 10 fascinating essays by curators, anthropologists, and artists around a selection of paintings and sketches spanning Carr’s remarkable career.
The book is divided into six sections. The first draws a connection between Carr’s mature work and the spirited aboriginal community that inspired her by including a selection of First Nations artifacts (masks, rattles, bowls). Anthropologist Robert Storrie’s sharp analysis of a northwest coast sheep-horn bowl highlights how ambiguity in design can lead to an appreciation of the Indigenous shamanistic worldview. Another chapter features Carr’s own strong, confident later work, which followed the artist’s fortuitous exposure in a 1927 exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada. These are coupled with a superb selection of 19th- and 20th-century wooden masks.
Elsewhere, an admiring and insightful essay by contemporary British painter Peter Doig sheds an artist’s perspective on a stunning collection of loose, windy landscapes, which Carr began at the behest of Lawren Harris. This dynamic book moves confidently between Carr’s wonderful work and the First Nations culture that inspired her.