by Rosemary Neering
Emily Carr's fame as one of Canada's greatest artists is now undisputed, but for the greater part of her life, her work was ignored or rejected.
Rebellious and individualistic from childhood, Carr soon left the staid society of Victoria to study art in San Francisco. Determined to learn to express her feelings for the Canadian landscape through her painting, Carr went to study in London, but the trip ruined her health and she returned to Canada still feeling that the techniques she learned were inadequate.
For some years Carr roamed the British Columbia coast, sketching and living with Aboriginals whose lifestyle she found refreshingly free of the hypocrisies of Victoria society. Drawn to France by news of the "new way of seeing," Carr thought for a while that impressionism would provide the suggestive style she had been searching for. Her new pictures, however, were dismissed by critics, and for fifteen years Carr abandoned the idea of becoming an artist.
In 1928, Carr met Lawren Harris in Toronto, and realized with excitement that here at last was the true spirit of the Canadian landscape, captured on canvas. Encouraged by Harris, Carr set out to paint the "unpaintable" trees and totems of the west coast. Her last pictures are overwhelmingly suggestive of the scale and atmosphere of the B.C. forests.