the laughing one: a journey toEmily Carr is a highly readable if quirky book that defies easy categorization.
It’s part art history, part first-person semi-fictionalized biographical narrative and part an analysis of political events affecting BC’s First Nations communities.Susan Crean admits that Carr’s art and life serve as a catalyst for her own understanding of political abuses of power like the clear-cut logging of Clayoquot Sound — an event that occurred long after Carr’s death — and the controversial seizure of potlatch regalia in the 1920s about which Carr’s views remain a matter of pure conjecture.
A postmodern (and occasionally irritating) juxtaposition of three parallel texts allows Crean to explore what Carr’s thoughts might have been alongside an analysis of Carr’s role as a 20th-century artist who studied in the USA, UK and France but felt compelled to return home to the repressive backwater of Victoria. And all this is presented in the context of legal and illegal events shaping the fate of BC’s native peoples.
The semi-fictional passages undermine the credibility of Crean’s more strictly scholarly sections — a shame because on their own these narrative bits make excellent reading.
With 61 pages devoted to an index, endnotes and bibliography, it’s clear that Crean wants this work to be taken seriously as an art historical text.
With less than a dozen black-and-white reproductions of Carr’s own art, though, it’s difficult to follow the many passages in which Crean uses the classic compare-and-contrast art historical method. Important credits for these plates are buried on the same page as the book’s ISBN number, so it looks suspiciously like this information was added as an afterthought.
Crean launches her book Monday (April 23). See listings, this page.
THE laughing one: a journey to emily carr by Susan Crean (HarperFlamingo), 496 pages, $32 cloth. Rating: NNN