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A detail of Emily Carr's Tree Trunk, 1931, oil on canvas, Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery.Trevor Mills

"In the forest think of the forest, not of this tree and that but the singing movement of the whole," Emily Carr wrote in her journal in 1935. Emily Carr: Deep Forest, now at the Vancouver Art Gallery, features more than 40 of the extraordinary forest paintings she created mostly in the 1930s, a crucial period in her artistic process.

With the encouragement of Lawren Harris, she had returned to art with a new focus on the forest landscape rather than the totemic work that had defined her earlier work. The pieces in Deep Forest, almost all from the VAG's permanent collection, are alive with the light, the darkness, the spiritual forces in the forest.

There is often a sense of danger lurking in the canopied lushness, and power. Take Tree Trunk, 1931. The magnificent brown trunk dominates, thrust before curtains of green and blue foliage. The painting has strong overtones of life, sexuality, strength. The Georgia O'Keeffe influence here is apparent.

"There's nothing else like this in her work," says Ian Thom, the gallery's senior curator, historical, who curated the exhibition. He says these paintings were the culmination of Carr's practice; it was the forests of British Columbia that allowed her to express her vision. "It's really the pictures she paints after 1928 that made her a great painter." Emily Carr: Deep Forest, at the Vancouver Art Gallery until March 9, 2014.