In Emily Carr’s (1871–1945) Big Raven solid waves of vegetation and columns of illuminated sky set off the lone figure of the raven, creating an elegiac quality that reflects a new stage in the artist’s approach to First Nations themes. Traditionally integrated into the life of the village, in Carr’s painting the raven has been reclaimed by the forest. The sense of mass signals the development by Carr of a new pictorial language and her perception of Indigenous life as threatened: the raven is placed outside the vibrant framework of village life.
After witnessing the boldness of vision of the Group of Seven artists in 1927, when she participated in Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art: Native and Modern at the National Gallery of Canada, Carr was inspired to infuse her work with equivalent power, emotion, and spirituality. The subject matter of Big Raven is one that Carr addressed in earlier work but during the early 1930s, Carr shifted her focus compositionally, chromatically, and stylistically and her modelling of forms became sculptural and densely weighted.