|Happiness, Emily Carr, 1939|
Sketching in the big woods is wonderful. You go, find a space wide enough to sit in and clear enough so that the undergrowth is not drowning you. Then, being elderly, you spread your camp stool and sit and look round. 'Don't see much here.' 'Wait.' Out comes a cigarette. The mosquitoes back away from the smoke. Everything is green. Everything is waiting and still. Slowly things begin to move, to slip into their places. Groups and masses and lines tie themselves together. Colours you had not noticed come out, timidly or boldly. In and out, in and out your eye passes ... Sunlight plays and dances. Nothing is still now. Life is sweeping through the spaces. Everything is alive. The air is alive. The silence is full of sound. The green is full of colour ...
I own up. I'd never heard of Emily Carr - who is a household name in Canada - and my excuse is that there is very little opportunity to see Canadian art here.
So I didn't know what to expect from this show at Dulwich, except that it had very good reviews. It turns out that Emily Carr was also a very engaging writer; that extract is from her diary in 1935, when she was 63. She was born in 1871 and, after the early death of both her parents, she took off to Europe to learn to be an artist, then returned to paint the forests and skies and document the legacy of the indigenous peoples of British Columbia.
I don't fit anywhere, so I'm out of everything, and I ache and ache. I don't fit in the family and I don't fit in the church and I don't fit in my own house as a landlady. It's dreadful - like a game of musical chairs - I'm always out, never get a seat in time, the music always stops first.
Yet look at the titles of her paintings ... Sunshine - Happiness - Tumult - Windswept Trees.
I loved the illustrated sketchbook of her 1907 holiday in Alaska with her sister, Alice - full of wit and fun about the ups and downs of what must have been quite a gruelling trip.