Emma Barr and colour are synonymous in northwestern Canada. She knows, loves, and generously shares her sense of colour through her stunning abstract and landscape paintings, and that joyously optimistic artistic skill simply grows and grows.
I have been blessed to have known Emma for a long time – we both grew up in the Yukon – and one cold winter we became friends when her desire for artistic connection led her to gather together myself and three others artists for an amazing winter of snacks, wine, artistic critiques (of the funnest, friendliest kind), culminating in one of the most fabulous group coffeeshop opening art exhibits/parties I’ve ever been a part of.
That is the magic of Emma – optimism, friendliness and talent combined with a joyous and fearless honesty that draws people into sweet little communities.
In fact, one of the phrases I love using, I learned from Emma. “I am so blessed…” Well, I am. I am so blessed to be able to share my friend’s gift and some of her stories here. Enjoy.
What does it mean to be an artist? And when did you know you were an artist (aka intensely creative person)?
To be an artist; I feel like I am an interpreter, I need to bring joy, awe and inspiration into people’s lives and this medium of painting and creating is my language. It is also the way my brain works and organizes things like stories, images, emotion. I knew when I was very young and expressed it to my parents when I was about five: “one day I’m going to have an art shop.”
When you consider the words luscious and soulful, what comes to mind? Is there anyone you know who embodies these traits? When do you feel luscious and soulful?
The wilderness is luscious to me, full of life, depth, history… when I paint images of it I get yummy, rich, lovely feelings and the hues and tones and saturations of my paint choices really get me going, especially yellows, oranges and reds.
When I am having a happy manic moment in my range of emotional expressions I feel this way, and when I am about half way through a painting and things are working out in a great direction.
I especially feel this way when I am out on location collecting compositions and searching images to paint, completely disconnected from the technical populated world of distraction, isolated in the wilderness settings of the Yukon.
What do you love most about your body? And why?
My smile, because it literally cuts through darkness and shines with light. My husband says he lives to see me smiling at least once a day. It’s usually an easy thing to do unless I’m feeling depressed. It also seems to remain constant even if my whole body weight is in flux for whatever reason.
What brings you pleasure? What senses are involved?
Sitting on my deck in the sunshine, I like listening to the flutter of leaves, creaking of tree trunks, birds chattering.
I feel immense pleasure and gratitude for a world that’s continuing to live on even though it is under constant threat. My sense of sight, and hearing is mostly at play.
If you had to throw a dinner and dance party how would you do it?
Potluck, many friends I haven’t seen in a while, some from high school even, and a friend bringing turntables to spin vinyl. Lots of balloons, fairy lights, tables, chairs, games like bacci ball and archery. Lots of kids running around! All at my residence out in our rural neighbourhood.
Where/how do you find your inspiration?
The landscape that surrounds me, flora fauna, people’s life experiences and emotional ranges. My photographs, sketches and studies of on-location journeys.
What does your ideal day look like?
Wake up around 9am, have a non-rushed breakfast with my lil toddler Aiden James, get him off to his day home down the street, come home, make a coffee and plan out the studio work.
Paint the rest of the day and pick lil dude up around 5pm to come home to make a healthy beautiful dinner.
Some days my husband can come home for lunch and we can eat and reconnect without interruption for 40 minutes or so.
What advice would you give to your younger self? How old is she when she needs this advice?
Oh my… well being a teen, I was rotten to my parents, breaking their rules, doing drugs, having sex way too young! Now I am a parent and really know what they did for us (my sibs and I).
I’d say get your head out of your ass and be nice, and stop threatening your very existence.
What is your most treasured possession? Tell a little story about it.
My wedding ring set. I designed it myself and had it made with a local jeweler. The shapes form a mountain and one of the three diamond sits where my husband proposed to me on that mountain. It was such a joyous day and I will never forget it.
It is not a typical ring, it is full of colour, each stone precious and representing something bigger, connecting the whole big picture, bringing two lives together and fortifying our own team. I never get tired of looking at it.
The main stone is a sapphire, then amethyst, ruby, emerald, coloured savorite, three diamonds on the wedding band representing our offspring and us. There are seven altogether, representing a holy number of completion and spirituality.
Inspired resources: please share any heart-moving soul-shaking artistry or experiences that have moved you. What made it so powerful?
My first journey with master painter Dominik Modlinski. He was accompanied by two other friends, David McEown and Tim Schumm, also great masters in their fields of art. I was able to work with these talented successful artists on location in a very remote part of the Yukon close to the NWT border.
The fall colours were at their best and I felt like a little girl sponge, my five year old self, listening intently to what they had to say and share with me.
We camped, ate, lived together on the land, exploring, photographing and painting side by side. It was so extremely inspiring and we now make a trip every two years in the Yukon together.
Who are your favourite artists? And why?
Female artists throughout history, namely Emily Carr, Tamara de Lempicka, Georgia O’Keefe and Frida Kahlo.
Because no matter how hard or easy it was for them to paint their ideas, they did it, they showed up, and were true to their inner calling to express themselves with sometimes little or no support. No matter what it took they surrendered to their art form.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you and your art?
One of the most valued lessons as of late has been, while I am creating work, it must not first have the intention behind it to sell it or show it. Exhibiting and selling is a nice after-effect but sometimes the best, most breakthrough work has to be created and it needs to be pure and free from intentions other than creation.
Usually an artist must surrender to the work and put oneself aside and be used like a vessel for a great work, being aided by the universe and all of the creation power it holds. This is the case if you wish to make your best work or something that can move people’s emotions.
It is a very difficult way to make a living off your arts, just know it is not cookie cutter, you must diversify your skill base and make many different streams of income that make up the whole. The arts are an industry that fluctuates in terms of success and it is the first thing to go when the economy around you locally or globally is in a low flux state, groceries are more important.
If you must create art, make it.
We all have to make our living, sometimes our art needs space not pressure to perform and fill the coffers. It’s a business of fine balance. Be sure to build in sustainability so that when the original paintings are slow to sell you can share your skills another way to pay the bills, like teaching or writing or a complementary day job that doesn’t completely drain your creative juices.
ps – if you know of any amazing artists I can profile in this series, send me an e-mail with their info – I’m always excited to connect with interesting amazing creatives.