Jean Claude Girardin sheds light on landscapes

Published on May 5, 2014
“Le Rocher,” Oil on canvas, 24” x 36” is by Jean Claude Girardin, whose exhibit “New Paintings” can be viewed at the Emma Butler Gallery in St. John’s until May 17.
— Submitted photos

The process of painting is often the process of painting light, and one of the most striking aspects of Jean Claude Girardin’s 18 oil-on-canvas works in “New Paintings” is how the paint is infused with a natural light that is not directly cast by a sun but conveyed and transmitted by fog and cloud.

(The other striking aspects include the delicately representational palette and the patient brushstroke-by-brushstroke accumulation of detail, but more on those in a bit.)

Girardin’s light both spills over and emanates from his landscapes, shaping and placing the architecture, fauna and geography even as it informs skies that seem to float out above and beyond their framing.

Girardin has an eye for vistas that embody quietude. An arc of shipwreck hulk that cross-sections an autumn field and a dream of grey headland. White, skeletal trees bent to drink from a rock-studded pond. Cows bending to their fodder under undulations of arching tree limbs and a figurative ranging line of hills. But there is activity and interaction, too.

“A Big Neighbour” shows an erratic, time-flung boulder, foregrounded by wildflowers, with saltbox houses and a beach in the background.

The spare, stemmed beauty of the stalks and petals skims against the wear and scour of the clapboard and landwash. Even the horizon ebbs away into whiteness.

The colours he chooses are found everywhere, but are perceived and projected through his individual eye. Girardin works in Newfoundland (and St-Pierre, where he was born) and in France, and “Salvage” and “Auvergne” depict the distinctions of both islands and the European continent.

The orange in “Salvage” is dabbed in bunched scrub and scuff, while in “Auvergne” it slants into neat house roofs. “Salvage” looks out to dark water and “Auvergne” up to a dark sky. Both paintings show the same colours, but their application is specific to their locale and climate. (The observation in both is his own. And he is taking his time.)

Even single colour can be treated as a full spectrum. The greens in “Upper Amherst Cove” seem to come in every possible shade, each touch of the brush seemingly attuned to one particular angle of sunshine, seen at an exact time, and distilled and considered and set into paint.

The size of the paintings range, too. “Bay L’Argent” is one of the bigger works. A curve of a boat anchors the piece and leads off into the distance; every blade of grass as it gently bends this way and that reinforces that lift, the expansive view forming a tonal poem of white boat, behind it pools of blue/grey riffling water, above it the faint dark power lines (almost not even there, but there), and a flow of birds punctuating the upper right corner.

“Ravenal (Marine Winter Scene),” back on St-Pierre, is open to the North Atlantic weather. It is much smaller, but pulls no punches with its tones rendered comparatively almost neon, with its purples and deep blues composing a whoosh of a seascape.

“New Paintings” continues at the Emma Butler Gallery in St. John’s until May 17.