Emily Carr at Dulwich Picture Gallery combines many of my favourite things – South London galleries, museum objects and abstract/cubist art. I have never heard of Emily Carr before or seen any of her work so I really liked how Dulwich Picture Gallery piqued my interest in the first room with bold, vibrant, lush green paintings of the Canadian forests surrounding artefacts from indigenous peoples borrowed from the likes of the British Museum. I knew it was going to be an interesting exhibition.
After the bold spiraling trees of the first room the second takes you back to Emily Carr’s earlier paintings, which came out of a visit to Alaska in 1907 that inspired her to dedicate her life to recording native sites in Northwest Canada. The paintings in this room are much more traditional watercolours than the first room, but still with interesting use of colours and subjects such as Cumshewa (1912) and its reds, greens and blues depicting a raven totem that is “moss-grown,dilapidated and alone”.
Following disappointing reception of these works Carr took some time out from painting, but after finding new influences and new contacts that helped take her work forward she came back with the work you see in Room 3. The progression to a cubist and abstract approach really works, taking her own inspirations and the native sites she saw around her and using new ways of expressing what she felt and saw in this environment.
This new work is bold and stripped back, removing superfluous details and making what is left vibrant and big. In Big Eagle Skidigate B.C.(1930) the traditional landscape background has gone, replaced with cubist shapes with the totem now the full focus of your attention in brown muted colours looking suspiciously out at you. The sketchbooks show this process with original sketches by Carr alongside the final product with many of the features stripped out and the background and subject much more stylised.
This is a great exhibition that introduces you to an extremely talented artist as well as showing you the development in her career and the processes involved in her painting. The journey continues into the last room where new landscapes appear featuring the sea and sky rather than the forests, such as a barren landscape with single, tall thin cedar reaching up to the sky as opposed to the lush dense green seen earlier.
I love the 1930s abstract work, I loved the artefacts on display and I loved finding out about a new artist I’d not heard of before. I look forward to discovering many more in 2015.
From the Forrest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia
Until 15 March 2015
Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, London, SE21 7AD