Saturday, August 28, 2010

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?

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