Whatever their original titles, Jean Claude Roy’s exhibitions could probably all be subtitled “en plain air.” That is how he works, in the open, in the weather.
Direct and immediate observation is an essential tool for him, seeming to transmit tones and energy and atmosphere right to the canvas. Viewers are taken not just by the bold and lovely colours, dynamic skies, and ambient landscapes and structures, but also by the sense of presence, of being there — albeit a perception that is conveyed through masterful brushwork and rapport of colours.
Painting en plein air is closely associated with Impressionism, not just for its concern with light, and its delight in outdoorsy settings, but also, simply, the co-incident timing of such artistic innovations as paint that came in tubes (as opposed to being ground and mixed in the studio) and easels and palettes that were relatively compact and portable.
As Impressionists were deeply taken with the effect of light on tone and form, they loved to study the changes they worked, particularly on landscapes. These technical advances allowed them unprecedented access to and exploration of their chosen subject.
That said, there are likely more than a few spots in Newfoundland where it’s no picnic to be painting out in the open, portable easel or no. In fact, there are probably a couple of locales where it might be preferable to be solidly anchored. But Roy has persevered through that, painting streets and fields and beaches and laneways and towns and outports all over the island, in every season. In “By request …” he revisits some of the most popular sites, like Trinity, Brigus or downtown St. John’s.
Roy’s paintings are impressions, not just in terms of the Impressionistic use of light and colour, but also, and very much so, of emotion, what he felt as he worked. He has compared his paintings to the process of keeping a diary — this is where he was, this is what he saw.
In “Daisies, Conche” (all the works are oil on canvas, 30” x 30”), a petaled river of the wildflowers dominates half the canvas; it flows, rising to the horizon, where the light blue sky, too, streams upwards.
“Trinity East (48” x 48”) has a sky of wedging, crackling gold, marked with swift, carved lines of orange. Underneath, any surface of the cliffs, houses and ocean that is not in shadow echoes that burnished powerful glow.
“Cupids” (36” x 36”) stands a ways back and views the whole community, the church and houses circling the harbour under a sky of fantastic plumes in gray and pink; while “Morning Coffee” (11” x 14”) is a more framed and intimate scene, two people on their back deck in downtown St. John’s amid the bright green and blue houses, with an apricot slice of sun in The Narrows.
On another scale, “Petty Harbour” (48” x 60”) is amazing in scope and spectrum, almost crammed with red, purple, grey and yellow, the sculpted hills towering over the tiny houses and boats, and the sky a billowing cadence of pewter, tangerine, lilac. Lots of people look at Petty Harbour and find it lovely. Only Roy envisions it like this.
“By request …” opens at the Emma Butler Gallery on George Street in St. John’s Saturday and continues until Oct. 2.
Note the remarkable year this artist is having. Roy has completed his goal of painting every community in Newfoundland, and another long-term project, the astonishing Conche tapestry, is now on display. What a record for him and what a generous recording of Newfoundland.