Saturday, August 28, 2010

Homage to DC

Homage to DC
No. I did not sneak my camera into the VAG. But these knock-offs may give you a feeling for the two button blankets. I did not have enough loonies so I had to use souvenir Irish and English coins. Image #3 refers to DC's meditation on papermaking.

Inspired by Emily II - Juxtapositions

On the fourth floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery, In Dialogue with Carr juxtaposes paintings, sketches, and primitive pots by Emily with the work of four local living artists, Evan Lee, Liz Magor, Marianne Nicolson, and Douglas Coupland.

As you enter the gallery, the first painting, of Emily and her sister sitting at tea, echoes the French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings and drawings on the main floor. The warmth and intimacy of this domestic scene remind us that Emily studied in France and could paint well in that style if she chose to do so.

A series of Evan Lee paintings which began life as found photographs of forest fires evoke the beauty in ugliness and destruction of altered landscapes in Emily's paintings of gravel pits and clear cuts.

Douglas Coupland displays two of his 'button blankets'. These are not so much like blanket capes as they are king-sized bed coverings or wall hangings. The first is a white field, reminiscent of Salish woven wool, with multi-coloured manufactured buttons affixed in even rows. The second on a solid black field displays 1000 loonies. There is irony here, humour, as well as an homage to the ritual making and gifting of blankets, articles of both beauty and utility, valuable hand-made objects which required 'a wealth of relatives working in concert' to produce goods for the giveaway at traditional potlatches. Other blankets and crazy quilts (I'm not sure whether they are all Coupland's) are decorated with other iconic images from aboriginal and Canadian culture which have replaced (or infiltrated) the winter dances. One is aerated with dream-catchers, another is a crazy collage of hockey memorabilia, and one showcases shiny hubcaps.

A large display case holds several of Emily's primitive clay pots decorated with First Nations motifs. The writing on the wall acknowledges the loan of pottery items from the private collection of Bryan Adams. Coupland points out that he and Adams grew up two blocks apart from each other on the North Shore but that he has only seen Bryan once in his life, at the Shell station. The connection, he suggests, is that they are both artists influenced by their relationship with the surrounding forest, as was Emily. The difference is, he suggests, that Emily had friends on the reserve and visited there often while, he, Coupland, has lived there a lifetime within blocks of Indian land, and has never set foot on the reserve. How true this is for most Canadians. As much as we may wish to feel connected, often the only link between our personal cultures is through the work of artists. Is this connection lost forever, irretrievable, or is Emily again the pathfinder, showing us where we all must go before we can feel truly at home in this land?

Inspired by Emily

The first time I saw an actual Emily Carr painting, in an obscure corner of a far room in the old National Gallery in Ottawa, I was pulled towards its green as are iron filings to magnetic north. Thus, I was thrilled that the July selection for our library book club was Emily Carr's Growing Pains: An Autobiography which highlights her development as an artist.

Some of her lessons learned from studying in San Francisco, London, Cornwall, and Paris include: the difference between naked and nude; the destructive nature of class consciousness and snobbery; the importance of being true to your self, of saying no to those who would make you into something else (such as a wife and mother); and the importance of being true to your subjects. If you are a child of the forest, don't be pushed into painting the sea. Emily confesses the dangers of stress and depression, the monetary sacrifices, the impossibility of juggling two careers (artist and landlady). She objects to the tendency to distort the human form for shock value and praises the way distortion is used in First Nations art for a specific purpose, to see into the life, the spirit, of a subject. She celebrates the importance of finding kindred spirits and warns of the danger of being too influenced by the style of another. Emily's emotional challenges are obvious yet she perseveres in living her non-traditional lifestyle and developing her own artistic style with her chosen subject matter.

Emily's writing style too is most impressive. Her voice seems as fresh as if she were camped in the yard. Her images are all so vivid and derived naturally from the environment. Many of us were inspired to seek out other of her published works. I also finished reading The Book of Small about her childhood in Victoria, BC in the 1870s and 1880s, and Klee Wyck about her travels to paint the totem poles. I pulled out my old copy of the Doris Shadbolt's The Art of Emily Carr. And I made a special trip to the Vancouver Art Gallery to see In Dialogue with Carr which includes some of her sketches, paintings, and primitive pots (see Juxtapositions). My next visit to Victoria will definitely include a visit to the Carr House on Government Street ( ). The VAG says Carr's legacy is a visual BC identity. For Emily, a visual BC identity is part of a proud Canadian identity.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Star Called Henry

I just finished reading Roddy Doyle's novel A Star Called Henry. Loved it. A friend recommended it as a great example of a writer who does not use quotation marks. It reads easily, all in the first person, with dialogue introduced by a dash. Yes!
And I loved the Irish setting, Dublin and the countryside, 1916 to 1921, during the fight for independence. It reminded me of a wonderful visit I had to Ireland many years ago. Yet the story of Henry Smart is so current. Poverty. Child soldiers. Women's liberation. The true meaning of freedom. Whether the means justify the ends. And whether it really matters if you merely replace one boss with another. History and political science through the eyes of the workers at the bottom of the chain of command.


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