Sunday, July 28, 2013

in limbo

Last week I stated that I preferred the art of Rembrandt to Rauschenberg, and Picasso to Basquiat. Not exactly like that but more or less. I had said, I admire Rauschenberg and Basquiat for their ideas, not necessarily for their skill. I stand before a Rembrandt or a Picasso and become limp.” Well, that is not entirely true since I do not always go limp.

The first time I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery was to see an exhibit brought over from the Rijks museum. I’d been to the Dutch museum as a seven year old girl. I was curious what I would recall, what I would think of these paintings now, and the exhibit would allow me to revisit in a way a part of my childhood. I did recall a number of the paintings which was a pleasant surprise, but as technically skilled as they were they also left me a little deflated. The paintings were dark, sombre and a bit depressing.

Afterwards I traveled up to the second floor which was in complete contrast to the paintings down below. These were works by Jack Shadbolt, a well known BC artist. I had never seen such large scale paintings before pulsating with colours and rhythms and became totally entranced. The giddiness I’d expected to feel downstairs I was now experiencing with this local, less regarded artist. I was moved.

  On another floor the gallery had a large showing of works belonging to Emily Carr. Very different again from Shadbolt and nothing at all like the paintings from the 17th century Dutch. I did not care for it all, nor was I supposed to. Some were just rough charcoal sketches of her journeys among the trees, but full of energy. The trees I knew so well from growing up on the west coast. Carr has always fascinated me, this woman who shaped her own style. She was a loner in more ways than one. She was geographically and culturally isolated from the art world in vogue, but also preferred not to socialize much. She seemed a bit eccentric to the residents of Victoria, and Emily Carr even called herself an “isolated little old woman on the edge of nowhere.”

Yet when I look at her work I wonder is that such a bad thing? Carr did not need to live in Paris to be a great artist.She knew of the artists and also the group of seven in Eastern Canada. However Carr was deeply entrenched and inspired by the art of the Pacific Northwest. Her work is original and moving and I sometimes wonder if that is best achieved by working alone. I don’t really have that answer myself. I suppose it is different for each personality. Even among a crowd shouting one sometimes hears the distinct whisper. Hopefully one day I will hear it too.

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