Sunday, October 13, 2013

Scorned As Timber, Beloved Of The Sky


Sometimes I wonder about the lack historical acknowledgement in mainstream, and even alternative, feminism. That maybe female makers and shakers and heart-breakers take every advancement and every woman that came before them for granted. That they don't even know those who suffered unfathomable hardships in times when women creating art, music and social change was considered even more of a fringe phenomenon than it is today.

In my teens I remember a female artist I idolized, Björk Gudmundursdottir, declare that she was not, in  fact a feminist and being upset with the idea that someone so powerful couldn't recognize that our work towards a society that treats women as a whole even halfway decently was not quite done yet. Or at all, actually.

Her, or any other Western woman's detachment from feminism is upsetting, because declaring that one is not a feminist undermines the fact that every right and privilege we have is the result of lifetimes of hard work and dissent on the part of other women, and since we are standing the shoulders of these giants it is our responsibility to return the favor by advocating in behalf of the next generations of women.

So I am always heartened, however superficial-seeming the trappings, when women who've made it in the arts give kudos to those who came before them.

Imagine, then, my delight when this month's Bust (which is a particularly good one-I have some beef with Bust, but that's an another story) featured Neko Case in the cover with the words "Scorned as timber, beloved of the sky"tattooed on her arms. This happens to be the title of my favorite Emily Carr painting.

Not a ton of people outside of Canada know who Emily Carr is, even though she's considered one of the earliest painters in the new world to adopt the modernist, impressionist, or post-impressionist style of painting. She was also very notable for her interest in the Northwest Coast Native art, preserving in her paintings many important sites of the First Nations and being influenced by it's forms, something unheard of for any white artist at the time, let alone a woman.

                             Emily Carr Trees in the sky

A trailblazer of the wilderness, both figuratively and literally, an early conservationist and an environmentalist before the term even existed, a writer, a rebel, an outsider,  Carr deserves her own post entirely, but here's to the perfect convergence of Neko Case, who just released a raw, emotional, awesome new album, the radical, independent Emily Carr and the best tattoo tribute ever.

Women in art close to your heart? Oh and I do believe there's a very intense feminist rant in the not-too-distant future of this blog-look out mama!


  1. Oh, Emily! I live in Victoria, so her presence is everywhere here - hubs and I have visited her grave (embedded with paint brushes!), she's painted on walls and her life-size statue is in the heart of downtown. My father-in-law gave me an Emily Carr mug last Christmas; it's one of my favourites. :)

    I've only read Bust a couple of times, as it's difficult to find around here (you have to get it at a specialty bookstore) - I happened to grab a copy when we were in Port Angeles the summer before last, and totally loved it. I wish I could find it more easily, because this looks like a good issue.


  2. how funny that you posted this! on friday night my husband was curious as to what neko case's tattoo's said and looked it up which led us to carr's painting. i'd never heard of her but her work looks beautiful. as one who does not consider herself a feminist, i look forward to your commentary and i was actually going to ask you about this topic over fb. synchronicity is in the air today!

  3. Synchronicity here too! I dug around in my iPod while stuck in traffic today because there was a ghostly moon hanging in the misty autumn afternoon sky and I had a sudden urge to listen to Neko Case's "I Wish I Was The Moon". I love Emily Carr too- thanks for reminding me! :)

  4. I've got that issue of Bust sitting on the floor next to me, I'd be interested to talk about your beef with it sometime. I've been a subscriber for a few years and I enjoy it but definitely have some criticisms myself.

    Close to my heart is Jen Bervin. Her piece, The Desert is incredible. I was lucky enough to see a copy in person when I was an intern for a publisher in New York, it was really just breathtaking.

  5. As a feminist and an artist, I'm embarrassed to say that I've never really considered how feminists have affected my ability to be an artist (although I definitely consider art's influence on feminism). Something to ponder...

  6. I discovered Emily Carr as a teenager living in Ontario when we visited the McMichael collection. She just sings to us! Her work is so dynamic and fluid, so joyous and ballsy. There's no fear in her brush, no hesitation, she seems to dance with nature as she paints. 'The Shoreline' is my favourite of hers, closely followed by 'Straight of Juan de Fuca' . The movement is quite wonderful. She has echos of Van Gogh at times.

    Someone I discovered in an art gallery in Cambridge a couple of years back and whose work really got me in the gut is Shazia Mahmood's. She too paints coastal scapes and from a step back her work is almost realist but as you approach the canvas you realise her style is more akin with the impressionists than you would expect but her technique is firmly routed in the here and now. Use of PVA glue and dyes. But there's so much drama and soul in her images!