Saturday, April 13, 2013

"A Picture is an Expressed Thought for the Soul"

A friend and collector of my work has asked me to write about artists I admire so I thought I'd begin with Emily Carr, whose work leads into the contemporary Erik Sandgren. I write about her first because I recently returned for a visit to Victoria, B.C., Canada and had the great pleasure of finally taking in her work in person.

Emily Carr exhibition "On the Edge of Nowhere" at the Greater Victoria Art Gallery

Emily Carr is one of my favorites for so many reasons and this visit was truly one of the highlights of my life. It's difficult to put into words how I feel about her work. For me it's pure poetry; the art of the possible. Something greater than real.  

Emily Carr Oil Paintings 

Emily Carr and her painting caravan, aka, "The Elephant"
Emily Carr, Artist and Author, 1871-1945, was a woman ahead of history. A great lover of life and her surroundings on Vancouver Island, she embarked upon many journeys to paint far from home; often alone in her little painting caravan or by hopping aboard a strange boat. This was unheard of for a woman of her time. I admire her courage and her commitment to honoring the First Nations Peoples and illustrating the importance of wild places and the Native way of life Though she was deeply religoius, I appreciate that her spiritualism was not limited to Christianity.

"A picture is an expressed thought for the soul," said Carr. 

Emily Carr Watercolor Painting with Cubist influence (my bad photo)

She found recognition in her lifetime but only when she was much older; after she was linked with the Group of 7, Canadian Landscape painters for a show at the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa),  For me, Carr and the Group of Seven's art pushes line, color and atmosphere in a way that represents how I "feel" about the places I love. In addition to her lyrical paintings, I have also come to love what Carr had to say in her writings.  Read more about Carr at Also, the book "Forest Lover" by Susan Vreeland, is a wonderful novel about her life. I have my mom to thank for turning me on to Carr's work and spirit. My mom spent time traveling many of the places Carr painted and I was born in Vancouver, British Columbia and lived on Vancouver Island in my early childhood.

Emily Carr's work has also greatly inspired one of my favorite living artists and mentors, Erik Sandgren of Aberdeen in Gray's Harbor, Washington and Portland, Oregon. In addition to sharing much of Ms. Carr's philosophy towards painting and conservation, Sandgren has visited and painted the totems and forest of the great Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands off the coast of Northern British Columbia). You can really see her influence on his work, especially from that time and I admire him for carrying on her tradition of honoring Native peoples by incorporating their remaining totem artwork, wild places and symbols in his artwork. 

Erik Sandgren

More than simple "pretty pictures", Sandgren's often mystical paintings truly embody the spirit of the Pacific Northwest. Asked what he admired most about Carr, Sandgren said "her relentless pursuit of change and progress in her own work, i.e. enormous courage - especially in her social context. She took lessons from (abstract painter) Mark Tobey, even!"

Erik Sandgren

Erik Sandgren

But I am most greatful to Sandgren for getting me to try plein air painting on the Oregon Coast nearly 10 years ago and for continuing to share his methods and inspiration with a whole new school of painters. He has helped me to look for something more than simple rendering in my creations. 
Art is so much more fun this way!

Erik Sandgren re-imagining Rocky Creek, Oregon Coast
See more of his work at