Gravity's Rainbow

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Weekend at the gallery: Harris, Burtynsky, Carr


This weekend it was rainy, as it often is this time of year here, but I was feeling good and wanted to do something. So I went to the art gallery. I saw five exhibitions, which required a break for lunch and a nap afterwards and was a fantastic way to spend the day. Two of the exhibitions (Myfanwy Macleod, or There and Back Again and Cock and Bull) I didn’t really understand or like. My understanding of There and Back Again was likely quite impaired by my near complete lack of knowledge of Tolkien and Led Zepplin, which were important reference points for her exhibition. I think Cock and Bull was supposed to be absurd and funny. Sometimes I saw the absurdity, but I didn’t get the humor. I have, however, been accused of not having a sense of humor on more than one occasion.

I really liked the rest of the exhibitions and they way they interacted.

Lawren Harris Mount Thule, Bylot Island, 1930 oil on canvas Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery Gift of the Vancouver Art Gallery Women's Auxiliary Photo by Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

Lawren Harris
Mount Thule, Bylot Island, 1930
oil on canvas
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery
Gift of the Vancouver Art Gallery Women’s Auxiliary
Photo by Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

Lawren Harris was part of a famous group of Canadian landscape painters called the Group of Seven. His work became more and more abstract over time. I only really liked a few of his paintings – I thought many of his landscapes looked like worms wriggling over rotting plants. There was a series of paintings of loggers he did when he was pretty young that I liked quite a lot. They look cold and strong and the landscape seems pressing and dark. Most of his abstract painting in the show was quite geometric and I found it unpleasant and new agey. There is one  from when he was older that I truly loved – textured white  almost covering a canvas with a brilliant blue peeking out around the edges. It was exactly what snow and birch forests and crisp air feel like. His work is about the experience of vast, awe-inspiring, largely untouched landscapes. Humans seem small and unimportant if they are they exist at all.


Edward Burtynsky
Markafljot River #1,
Erosion Control, Iceland, 2012
chromogenic print
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Gift of the Artist
© Edward Burtynsky, Courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery/Paul Kuhn Gallery, Calgary

Edward Burtynsky takes very big, often aerial, photographs of human modifications to the landscape. They often look like abstract paintings. I saw a film of his awhile ago called Watermark that focused on human use of water and the way we’ve modified the landscape and waterways to access it. I love his work. I think it is stunningly beautiful and important. It’s hard to understand the scale of human  impact on the landscape, the amount of resources we consume. His art shows it, without judgement and without much comment. Just – here it is, enormous, terrible, beautiful. If you do watch the film I recommend skipping the parts where he’s actually talking, especially about making his book. His art may be great but he is arrogant and doesn’t say much worth hearing.


Emily Carr
Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky, 1931
oil on canvas
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust

The work of Emily Carr in this exhibition shows expressive paintings of logged Canadian landscapes. They are both sad and joyful.

I really liked these three exhibitions and how they interacted and played off each other. Harris and Burtynsky both had these abstract landscapes, but produced them very differently and for different reasons. Harris tried to capture an emotional or spiritual experience of the landscape with his painting, whereas Burtynsky creates emotional experiences of the landscape with photographs that abstract the landscape with the way he uses scale and perspective.

I think the Emily Carr pieces chosen for this exhibition creates a bridge between Burtynsky and Harris. Carr’s work looks much more like Harris than Burtynsky, but is actually more similar to Burtynsky to experience since both Burtynsky and Carr delve into human impacts on the landscape and their terrible beauty.

Anyway, go visit your local gallery. It’s a good way to spend an afternoon.

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