Girardin’s international encounters

Joan Sullivan
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Borders no boundary for St-Pierre painter

Rocks posed as a balancing core between a tranquil sky mirrored in a still sheen of water; hills and fields unfolding like rolls of earthy cloth; cows and sheep with such vitality they almost bleat and loo: such is the imagery in “Nouvelles Peintures,” the new solo exhibition by Jean Claude Girardin. Girardin is a painter from St-Pierre, where he opened the island’s first private art gallery, Galerie Ravenal, in 1992, and one who paints the natural world around him. Here, those vistas are divided between Newfoundland and France.

In a brief artist’s statement, titled “Why do I paint?,” Girardin writes that he is taken by, even obsessed with, “the subtlety of lights of our landscapes, with a preference for the greys and monochromes.”

He seeks to represent that which is around him, which “is always available … it offers me endlessly renewed situations, brand new challenges, whether it be apparent simplicity or complexity that was not perceived in the first place. So the scenes are unlimited but my pace and my energy are respected. Then I decide if the result is satisfactory or not. Nature will not say a word. These encounters with the elements, that real communication, are always magic.”

These oil on canvas paintings concentrate on the formal landscape and pastoral. They are pristine, arguably classical — “A French Country Scene” could be a work of 19th century French realism — but the subject and style is deftly individual. Throughout, there is a calmness, lots of flat water, gentle reflections, poised floating mists. There are few people. These are unoccupied, contemplative spaces. But not empty. They are full of form, rendered with great dexterity.

The brushwork is amazingly precise, exact and dynamic. “A Day at Swift Current” swells with a vanguard of purple petals and green leaves, stems of white and yellow daisies and the lacy blue of irises, a rush of tangled bloom that builds to an almost holographic push. The background, with its wedges of land, pools of water, and a receding overcast sky, seems to go on forever; at the same time that foreground continually pulls you forward. The interplay is almost three-dimensional.

“You Are Observed” has a trio of deer, and “Two Deer” another pair of the creatures. They are alert, but very small, the perspective is from ways back, so as not to startle. The viewer can feel the atmosphere, the low sky, the quiet autumn marsh.

In “Gannets in the Fog,” the effect of the coastline softly undulating under and through the fog is nearly cinematic. “Silver Sea” has a metallic spill and gleam through cloud and on water. “Unconscious Mimicry” sets a sheep’s woolen flank against a shorn cliff face; far below the ocean is threaded with slim, delicate filaments of lilac and pink.

Then come some scenes of France, with a much different palette than that of Newfoundland, as these show yellow sunlight, blue skies, and cultivated green pastures. The tones are warmer and less complicated. This is civilization, there are houses with white walls and red roofs, cars, and the animals are herded and penned, not wild, or found on a cliff top.

In “Chanteuge Sur Allier, France,” the brushwork is slightly different, thicker, though still tiny, with a controlled squiggly articulation. In “Poppies,” the tall orange flowers seem to press up against the frame, the skein of their petals tactile, wafting in a breeze.

Then it is back to such Newfoundland views as “Under a Milky Sky,” “Butter Pot Park” and “Peace on Fogo Island.” We have returned to the greys; these greys are never dull but pearled, luminous. “A Summer Day in Newfoundland” is not balmy, not lush, but has an ethereal light, and tree branches and leaves delicate as cloisonné.

These works are thoughtful, measured and immediate. They bring you in, almost close enough to touch the glowing veined poppies, and smell the sea water that is all gloss and brine. Yes, there is enchantment. “Nouvelles Peintures” continues at the Emma Butler Gallery until Aug.14.

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Country Scene, France Swift Current Allier Pot Park Fogo Island

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