Emily Carr: Post-Impressionism and the “Something Plus”

27 May

Emily Carr, Breton Church (1906)

Note: click on any image to enlarge

Canadian artist Emily Carr (1871-1945) drew inspiration from the native terrain and peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast.  A student of Fauvism, Carr was one of the first painters in Canada to adopt a modernist, post-impressionist painting style.

Emily Carr, A Rushing Sea of Undergrowth (c. 1932-35)

It’s not too difficult to see in Carr’s work the influence (directly or indirectly) of artists such as Van Gogh, Cezanne and Gauguin. Carr was influenced by the Canadian Group of Seven.  One of the people who significantly influenced The Seven was another of my favorite Canadian artists — Tom Thomson.  Thomson was himself influenced by Van Gogh and Cezanne.  Not surprisingly, you can see a lot of parallels between Thomson and Carr.

Emily Carr, Self-Portrait (1938)

Emily Carr is often compared to Georgia O’Keefe and, in fact, Carr and O’Keefe met in New York in the 1930s.  While the comparison with O’Keefe is certainly apt, Carr’s work has a more representational quality than that of O’Keefe. Whereas O’Keefe, especially in her later years, became more purely formalistic, you sense in Carr’s work a mutually-reinforcing conspiracy between the thing represented and its underlying principle.

Emily Carr, Forest (1940)

What I find intriguing about post-impressionism in general, and Carr’s work in particular, is this focus on seeing “behind” or “inside” the material nature of a thing and grasping its essential nature or “soul.”  That’s what I find myself trying to do in my own art and I imagine that’s also what Robert Henri meant when he commented that “there is no art without contemplation.”

Emily Carr, Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky (1935)

Carr herself referred to this essence as the “something plus” in a work of art.  Conveying the “something plus” is what, in Carr’s view, distinguishes a great work of art: a sort of  ineffable, spiritual quality; an exposition of the hidden ideal in the material thing.  

Emily Carr, Above the Gravel Pit (1937)

Carr’s idea of the “something plus” has strong Platonist, Aristotelian and even religious overtones and I think Carr was spot on in her observation — which is one reason I’ve always been a fan of her work.  And, of course, on a more basic level her art is simply beautiful!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Emily Carr, Autumn in France (1911)

Emily Carr, Beach and Sky (1927)

Emily Carr, Cedar Sanctuary (1942)

Emily Carr, Guyasdoms d’Sonoqua (c. 1928-30)

Emily Carr, House Front, Gold Harbour (1912)

Emily Carr, Indian Church (1929)


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