Emily Carr - Canadian Artist and Writer

A few weeks ago, I went to an exhibition of paintings by Canadian artist and writer, Emily Carr, at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London.

Emily Carr is most well known for her paintings of the natural landscape and Native communities of coastal British Columbia. I’ve long been an admirer but, this time, felt drawn closer to her as I discovered more about her search for a sense of Western Canadian identity and her place in the art world.

Born to English parents in 1871, in Victoria, British Columbia, Emily went on to pursue her artistic training around the world in San Francisco, London, Paris, and Brittany. While these experiences informed her work, they also seemed to reinforce her devotion to the home she had left behind, and to depicting its particular story:

“I glory in our wonderful west and I hope to leave behind me some of the relics of its first primitive greatness. These things should be to us Canadians what the ancient Briton's relics are to the English.”

As a first-generation Canadian having travelled from the colonies to England, she recognized the need to value and celebrate the unique identity of her own fledgling country.

For some expats, there’s an ongoing internal conversation about the best place to be - here or there, or somewhere else entirely - especially around tax time!

After having spent a number of years here in the UK and on various adventures abroad, Emily returned to British Columbia permanently. Even though she felt throughout her life that, “I don’t fit anywhere, so I’m out of everything and I ache and ache..." her home country drew her back:

“I know [the Group of Seven] are building an art worthy of our great country and I want to have my share, to put in a little spoke for the West, one woman holding up my end.”

It’s a lovely and unexpected connection with a fellow Canadian who, over a hundred years ago, had similarly made a journey to the UK in search of artistic and cultural fulfillment. In doing so, Emily Carr came to know where she was from that much more clearly.