Review: Wood Chopper and the Monkey

Written by: Katherine Reed

Edited by: Yuki Ochiai

Vancouver Art Gallery is hosting Emily Carr & Landon Mackenzie: “Wood Chopper and the Monkey” from September 18, 2014 to April 6, 2015

The Vancouver Art Gallery routinely hosts exhibitions by Emily Carr. This year they are showing a mixed exhibition, curated by and showcasing works by Landon Mackenzie. Emily Carr is well known throughout Canada for her images of First Nations artifacts and geometric forests. Her work with the Group of Seven is common knowledge amongst Canadian artists, as is her unusual lifestyle and ornery personality. Landon Mackenzie is less well known, however has made a name for herself in the art world of Canada. She is a professor at Emily Carr University, the first female, and has been exhibited in over ninety exhibitions (Mackenzie). She is known for her large, abstract paintings in contrast to Carr’s darker, solemn landscapes. It is a dangerous time in Canada to not be a fan of Carr’s works. Her notoriety precedes her, and Canadians take any criticism to heart. Many identify her as one of the most successful artists to come from Canada, and she paved the way for many female artists, such as Mackenzie. Though it is undeniable to acknowledge the strides she made for many Canadian artists, her work did not reach the visual impact it holds now until after travelling to Europe in the late 19th early 20th centuries, specifically Paris (The National Gallery of Canada). There, she saw works by the Impressionists, the Cubists, the Fauves, the Post-Impressionists, and any art movement in and around the time of these (Bogart). It was here that she gained inspiration, and took many of the motifs that she is known for today. Non-naturalistic color, simplified forms, geometric shapes, sweeping brushstrokes, distortion in figures and light, these are characteristics that her work gained from her time in Europe.

The exhibition is located on the top floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery. You enter into a large white room, with works by both artists juxtaposed throughout. For anyone who has seen Carr’s works before can easily identify those by her and those by Mackenzie. One of Carr’s most famous works, Big Raven, is placed in this room. On each end we see large works by Mackenzie, both part of her Lost River Series. The contrast between the works by the two artists is interesting, and welcoming. Mackenzie is hoping to underline the concept of memory in this room, which works well. She chose works that she and Carr both created from memory, both similar in subject, but quite different in style. She briefly brushes on the ideas of feminism, something that would be hard to ignore, considering both artists are female, but she does not dwell on it.

Lost River Series No. 4, Landon Mackenzie, 1981, synthetic polymer on canvas

Landon Mackenzie, “Lost River Series No. 4”, 1981, synthetic polymer on canvas

The second room is where the name of the show comes from; Wood Chopper and the Monkey. There is a large abstract self-portrait of Mackenzie, in the nude, chopping wood. On top of the image she has placed what appears to be a large black diamond, or chop mark, on the canvas. Here she delves deeper into feminism, about how her chopping the log, the phallic shaped object, is a metaphor for her chopping her way through the male-dominated art world. Carr’s self-portrait lies to the right of the work, but it is unusual in that is from the rear. We cannot see her face, only the back of her head and the canvas in which she is occupied painting. This helps to stress the feminist theme; that Carr felt no need to share her face, what she really stood for was her painting, and that’s all you needed to know about her. Her looks and her appearance holds no concern; her importance lies in her works.

Untitled (Self-portrait), Emily Carr, 1924, oil on canvas

Emily Carr, “Untitled (Self-portrait)”, 1924, oil on canvas

The final room is concerned with the abstract. Mackenzie has placed works of Carr and herself in contrast with one another to emphasize similar themes but with varying degrees of execution and style. When you first enter you see a large work of Mackenzie’s placed next to a smaller work of Carr’s. Both consist mainly of triangles, with Carr’s being that of triangles created by groupings of trees, and Mackenzie’s being of two-dimensional triangles created by the lines of her brush strokes. Each work is predominately green, as though they are two versions of the same forest. She is highlighting the similarities and differences between both with this juxtaposition. They are and were both female artists working in a male-dominated field, they both were moving towards a new style of work, and have strived to not be defined by the limitations of their genders and eras. At the same time, they have lived many years apart, with new styles and mediums being introduced during this time, and with varying resources available.

Trees No. 1, Emily Carr, 1932, oil on canvas

Emily Carr, “Trees No. 1”, 1932, oil on canvas

It is the similarities between the two artists that drive this show. Though the style is markedly different, it is a welcome challenge to the viewer to look behind the canvas and note the parallels between the works. Mackenzie’s bright abstracts help to lighten the somber qualities that many of Carr’s works hold. Mackenzie has done well in her placement of each work, with a special nod towards the second room housing the shows namesake, Wood Chopper and the Monkey.


References 

Bogart, Jo Ellen. Emily Carr: At the Edge of the World. Ontario: Tundra, 2003.

Mackenzie, Landon. Landon Mackenzie. 16 November 2015 <http://www.landonmackenzie.com/index.html&gt;.

The National Gallery of Canada. “Collections.” 2014. The National Gallery of Canada. 16 November 2014 <http://www.gallery.ca/en/see/collections/artist.php?iartistid=915&gt;.

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