Thursday, April 29, 2010

Emily Carr - Totem Walk at Sitka

This picture was painted by Emily Carr in 1917. She was 46 years old at the time.
It caught my eye because it was the first time that I knew that Emily had painted in waters.

When I first looked at it, I thought that maybe there is hope for me as an artist.

I know, I know. Emily is a national icon and its almost sacrilege to judge the works of someone of her stature. But, the more I look at it, the more I struggle with it.

There is in my mind a terrible sense of internal disconnect. The trees and grass seem to sit on top of the ground rather then to be a part of the earth.

The totems in this work, unlike those in Emily's later paintings, seem isolated by their intense colours. And even worse, the light values of the second pole puts it out of place.

Perhaps I'm unduly harsh on Emily. Her picture has great depth. Fair enough. But, there is no depth to the work outside the road. She drops a wash over the right side behind the trees and this, in my mind, makes the road disconnected from the landscape surrounding it. I also struggle to find the source of light in this work.

When I look at this work I find myself thinking of the Emily Carr who's works took a long time to gain acceptance.

It is also noteworthy that this wasn't a beginning work for Emily. She studied art in San Francisco, 28 years earlier and had gone on to live, study art and paint in France.

Emily persevered through the tough times and eventually became one of Canada's most respected oil painters.

Perhaps its no wonder that Emily became a better known as oil artist.

Everyone knows that there isn't much room for making serious corrections in a watercolour painting. And, there are a lot of oil and acrylic painters of stature who find waters an almost impossible media to get the hang of. Not just that, but there are some premier watercolourists who paint a picture several times before they find one which is acceptable. And if anyone should be charitable of someone else's works it has to be me.

Anyway, Emily went on to do great things as an impressionistic, artist - in oils.

You may wish to read Emily's biography and see this painting on the Canada E-Zine.
Please click here.


  1. I think that there are two types of watercolour painters, One views watercolour as an obsession the other views it as a tool. The obsessors are concerned with process and technique and execution and a pretty result. The artists who use watercolour as a tool are those who would paint with house paint. Watercolours are handy and convenient so they use'em. I know these "types" overlap and its not a scientific survey but its how I think someone like Emily Carr may have used the medium. This may not excuse compo dilemmas but she may not have been sufficiently interested in watercolour to learn how to solve problems inherent in the medium which would allow her a more sophisticated use of watercolour.


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