"Above the Gravel Pit" by Emily Carr (Oil on canvas, 1937) - Vancouver Art Gallery
Lawren Harris (1885–1970) wrote to Carr in 1929, advising her to leave “the totems alone for a year or more” and pursue instead “the tremendous elusive what lies behind.” In the 1930s Carr focused her attention on the landscape surrounding her Victoria home and developed a new gestural language to represent it. Above the Gravel Pit shows her also turning her gaze skyward. In her journal Carr describes this painting as “a skyscape with roots and gravel pits. I am striving for a wide, open sky with lots of movement, which is taken down into dried greens in the foreground and connected by roots and stumps to sky. My desire is to have it free and jubilant, not crucified into one spot, static. The colour of the brilliantly lighted sky will contrast with the black, white and tawny earth.”
Here Carr uses brushwork as a structuring device, reminiscent of the paintings she made in Brittany two decades earlier—for example, Autumn in France, 1911—and in the period that immediately followed her return to Canada from France in 1912. The brushwork also provides a design coherence: whereas in the earlier works differing brush-stroke treatments were used within a composition, in this mature work broad strokes become a unifying force.
A year before she painted Above the Gravel Pit Carr used this same treatment in Shoreline, 1936, part of a series of compositions that were inspired by landscapes and seascapes near Victoria—such as in Albert Head and Esquimalt Lagoon in Colwood, and in Metchosin, Langford, and Goldstream Park
Emily Carr was born December 13th, 1871 and died March 2nd, 1945.
Canadian artist and writer Emily Carr studied in San Francisco in 1889-95, and in 1899 she travelled to England, where she was involved with the St. Ives group and with Hubert von Herkomer's private school.
She lived in France in 1910 where the work of the Fauves influenced the colourism of her work and she came into contact with Frances Hodgkins. Discouraged by her lack of artistic success, she returned to Victoria where she came close to giving up art altogether.
However, her contact with the Group of Seven in 1930 resurrected her interest in art, and throughout the 1930s she specialized in scenes from the lives and rituals of Native Americans. She also showed her awareness of Canadian native culture through a number of works representing the British Columbian rainforest. She lived among the native Americans to research her subjects. Many of her Expressionistic paintings represent totem poles and other artefacts of Indian culture.