Described as ‘Canadian Icon,’ painter Emily Carr (1871-1945) was a writer and a leading ‘Expressionist,’ whose works often carried the shades of ‘Impressionism’ and ‘Fauvism.’ She pioneered the artistic representations of Canadian native life, mostly through landscape art. Carr infused life into her art through bold and visionary displays, with accent on green and blue. Many-a-times, a strong and marked influence of the renowned ‘Group of Seven’ could be identified in her paintings. Emily’s choicest work considered is the “Big Raven,” created in 1931.
Unlike her favorite medium of watercolors used in her earliest works, “Big Raven” painting belongs to the genre of her oil works on canvas. Measuring 87.3 cm X 114.4 cm, this painting is currently a part of the collection at the Vancouver Art Gallery, British Columbia. In line with Carr’s characteristic style, the piece is a reflective work in deeper overtones. As the name suggests, the protagonist in the painting is a bird, highlighted in larger-than-life proportions. The theme is focused on the fast approaching end of the being, and the fact that it has accepted its fate gracefully. The towering figure of the bird is portrayed as looking away from the viewer towards the left side of the painting, and standing in waiting for its demise. The fallen leaves at the feet of the “Big Raven” are delineated in a very powerful manner, giving them a wave like appearance. These waves seem to threaten to engulf the majestic creature.
Through “Big Raven,” Carr has tried to represent the culmination of life back into the ‘whole,’ from which it was originally created, i.e. Mother Nature. Certainly, the brushstrokes and the graded shading employed for the foliage in green and occasionally yellow, coupled with an austere, relatively darker sky, add to a mystic depth in an already philosophical setting. Carr had divulged that her idea behind the work was to signify the grim state of a lonely raven, whose partner was long dead, waiting for its turn amidst decay and rot. Despite the spotlight on the role of a higher power on the destiny of living creatures, Carr has not allowed powerlessness to creep into her portrayal of the protagonist. The piece is a remake and purportedly, an ‘improved’ version of her watercolor work ‘Cumshewa,’ painted about 20 years earlier. With, its sheer gravity and the darkness that envelops it, “Big Raven” came to be recognized as a masterwork of profound theme, which continues to intrigue its viewers, just as much as it did at the time of its debut.