Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Crazy Woman by Robert Genn

More notes on Emily Carr

When I was four years old, I was riding along in the back seat of my grandfather's 1936 Hupmobile. Passing through Beacon Hill Park, in Victoria, BC, I spied a lone woman on a stool with a big easel. "Look Papa, an artist," I said. My grandfather - I can still see the expression on his face - looked over his shoulder, and confided. "Her name is Emily Carr. Some people think she's crazy.

Within a few years of that encounter, that crazy woman had passed away and then there were only her paintings and writings. Emily was a unique product of a Victorian upbringing, a West Coast vision, and the influence of modern mentors. Her remarkable books started appearing in 1941. In them we get a glimpse of the anxieties and joys of a creative pioneer - an original thinker with an attitude

When you really think about your hand you begin to realize its connection, to sense the hum of your own being passing through it. When we look at a piece of the universe we should feel the same,"she says. Emily felt the hum and found a way to respond. Painting in the "marvellous modern manner" she wondered if she might ever feel the burst of birth-joy, that knowing that indescribable, joyous things, that have wooed and won me has passed through my life." Emily was a spiritual being who responded to the great forests and the native cultures of our coast. She was a quirky loner who hoisted the chairs of her studio, so guests would not have a place to linger. For those she found 'interesting', she might lower one down.

Too young to test her hospitality, I nevertheless ingested her writing. Her words got me going. "There is something bigger than fact: the underlying spirit, all it stands for, the mood, the vastness, the wilderness." This wilderness took both of us away in boat and camper, on voyages of discovery and countless sorties of unfinished business. "Sincerity is itself, religion," she told me and I believed. I was pleasantly surpises that her concerns were mine; "You always feel when you look it straight in the eye, that yuou could have put more into it, and let yourself go and dug harder."

Robert Genn, on Emily Carr: Text, Love Letters to Art. pg. 33.

Studio Beckett, Publications, Vancouver.

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