Roy's Road

Joan Sullivan
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Just because he has painted every community in Newfoundland, don't expect Jean Claude Roy to stop moving

"Newfoundland is movement." Jean Claude Roy's landscape paintings are full of energy, of dynamic brushwork, lively colours and vital defining lines. As an artist, he focuses on motion, finding dollops and punches of velocity in the sky and the grass and even the supposedly static clapboard houses and beached dories. And, as a Newfoundland painter, he himself has been on the move. Roy has just completed his task of painting every community in Newfoundland, and a selection of the resulting 840 artworks is now the core of a new exhibition at the Emma Butler Gallery.

Roy has long been painting all over the island. In 2003 he teamed up with photographer Ben Hansen to produce "Two Visions/Deux Visions," an art book of Newfoundland and Labrador. But Roy was not systematically charting through a grid.

Jean Claude Roy "New Paintings" opened at Emma Butler Gallery Thursday, and runs until Aug. 13. Submitted photo

"Newfoundland is movement." Jean Claude Roy's landscape paintings are full of energy, of dynamic brushwork, lively colours and vital defining lines. As an artist, he focuses on motion, finding dollops and punches of velocity in the sky and the grass and even the supposedly static clapboard houses and beached dories. And, as a Newfoundland painter, he himself has been on the move. Roy has just completed his task of painting every community in Newfoundland, and a selection of the resulting 840 artworks is now the core of a new exhibition at the Emma Butler Gallery.

Roy has long been painting all over the island. In 2003 he teamed up with photographer Ben Hansen to produce "Two Visions/Deux Visions," an art book of Newfoundland and Labrador. But Roy was not systematically charting through a grid.

"I mixed it up," Roy said, explaining how he would simply drive around and stop when he saw something he wanted to paint. But three years ago he started seriously to paint every community on the map. (And this was concurrent to another big venture, "The Conche Tapestry," a history of the French Shore, which will be 200 feet long on completion. Since 2004, Roy had spent many evenings on the drawings, which the women of Conche then stitch.)

Not only did he visit all these communities, but some he travelled to several times. "Sometimes I didn't find ... painting is not like going to work. I have to like it, you need to be engaged." He would go there, and go there again, and even again, "until something clicked." If he could drive there, he drove. If he couldn't, he took a boat.

There is an obvious archival richness to this project. Some communities are fading, and others have changed over the years. In some outports he painted in the 1970s "there are no more seagulls, there are no more boats. There is vinyl siding, not saltbox houses."

But Roy was never concerned with simple visual preservation. His impetus was purely creative.

"I was trying to find something, something people don't see. I want to leave something. I could not wait to go to the next place." Even now he half hopes someone points out an omission.

"Because it was not only to paint, but to talk to people. I paint outdoors and there is always a person, and always a story.

"I drive, and sometimes it takes me longer to find a spot, to find my painting, than to paint it. I drive so much through a village and there is always someone looking out a window. I was in Rose Blanche, it was winter, it was very cold. It was windy, so I put a few rocks on my easel. A man came along on an ATV and said, 'We saw you driving around and we thought you were a fisheries officer.' A little story like that works with the painting, like every painting is a story, not just a painting."

Open air

Roy always prefers to work outside. He doesn't paint in a studio (in fact, he only now has his first studio in Newfoundland). "You lose most of it. I'm sure people can recognize any painting of mine that was done inside. They look more finished in a studio and that is not my style."

The logistics of painting en plein air can be formidable. You need to cart all your own stuff. On a blustery day, a big canvas can turn into a kite. But being outside is intrinsic to Roy's process.

In fact, "the worse the conditions, the better the painting, because I work fast. In Newfoundland, if you paint outdoors, you paint fast. Because the weather changes. But even if you are out for a half hour on a frozen pond in the winter, you get it."

"It" being the fundamental characteristic of the land and weather, a witnessed and experienced base for the resulting work. "When I paint, I put the essential in the painting, I put feeling, expression and abstraction, mostly in the sky."

The immediacy of his technique - at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning in downtown St. John's he can hear people waking up and smell their breakfast toast; in a Southern Shore field he once had a bull knock over and lick a painting - is inherent to his work.

Roy first came to Newfoundland in 1966 for three months aboard a French cable ship (he is also a trained electrician). "I loved Newfoundland right away." He was 18, and just starting to paint, "watercolour, like everyone else." Returning home, he went to Florence and, inspired by the sculptures, bought some wooden blocks and began carving. He did his first oil painting in 1969.

In 1971 he emigrated and stayed for the next 12 years. He began to see work from, and then meet, Gerry Squires. He had his first show with the Mauskopf Gallery, then a tiny space on Water Street, in 1974.

Lately he has divided the calendar between painting and living in Newfoundland and France.

So, 840 paintings (which may result in another book) makes a nice project. What's next?

"I will have a bit of a rest - not from painting."

Having such an intimate itinerary with Newfoundland, he now knows exactly where he wants to go. "Where you find better inspiration. Places like Grand Bruit. It is an amazing place. I could not believe it. A waterfall falling into the harbour. It is very green. Manicured. They mow between the rocks. I'm very sad they're going to leave Grand Bruit. So many places you want to go back too. Francois. When I went there with Ben, the boat stayed for only two hours, so I ran off and did my painting. It was a foggy day and Ben's photo was in black and white but my painting is all colourful."

Colour being one of his prime visual concerns, contrast and balance being two others.

Roy's paintings are known for their busy, abstract skies and wedges of multi-hued suns. He painted his first "black sun" in 1988.

"I was looking at the sun for too long and when I looked away there was a black dot and I put it in. I realized it gave another focal point. In the beginning they were all black, then they became square, now the sun is always in relationship with the land. It gives more power to the land."

Roy's mergings of realism with abstraction, of big skies worked like royal icing and carefully detailed clapboard housing, probably fall outside The Official Rules of Painting. But they work.

He remains critical of his art. Compositionally, he can see how he's improved. But he also sees the difficulties.

"Light is always a problem. I paint all my life and I look at a box of paints and there are not enough colours. So you dream to find another colour. How do you find it? Find new tricks. If you put two colours together and then change one, the other doesn't look the same. But I am never satisfied, because I always have a missing colour."

Jean Claude Roy "New Paintings" opened at Emma Butler Gallery Thursday, and runs until Aug. 13.

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Conche, Rose Blanche Grand Bruit St. John's Southern Shore Florence Water Street France

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments