LABRADOR, NL – French painter Jean Claude Roy has found a lifelong love and muse in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Of his over 8,000 paintings, Roy says about 4,000 are of the province.
“My love for Newfoundland came 50 years ago, and I’ve been painting it since then,” said Roy. “There is no other place like it on earth.”
A companion volume to Fluctuat Nec Mergitur, Roy’s 2012 collection of Newfoundland paintings, has been recently published by Breakwater Books. Terra Magna: Labrador focuses on paintings across Labrador.
With 200 paintings in the book, the collection spans Labrador communities, roads, brooks, and fishing camps. For Roy, the province’s scenic landscapes provide an endless supply of material.
“Everywhere I stopped there, I could find something to paint,” he said. “Every corner, every cove, everywhere I go painting I think, ‘It would be nice to set up a studio here.’ Not every country is like that.”
A place that particularly stuck out for its scenic beauty was the Pinware River.
But because he prefers to paint exclusively on location, Roy says there were some logistical differences when working on this series.
“In Newfoundland I could drive one day and come back in the evening. In Labrador I would have to plan my trips,” he said. “When I would go from Goose Bay to Red Bay, I would only see maybe 10 cars. It was amazing to be alone like that.
“I really enjoyed it.”
Roy began his work in the Straits of southern Labrador, and says the landscape became completely different as he travelled further upward.
Innu communities like Sheshatshiu were particularly hospitable to the European painter.
“Everywhere I went I was very welcome,” said Roy. “But they were amazed I had come to paint their communities. They wanted me to come back to talk to the kids as well.”
Roy gives many of his paintings away for auction and charity, and he hopes the funds can help with upkeep for many of these isolated and rural communities, and prevent them from disappearing.
“I don’t want these places to disappear,” he said. “Many of the places I’ve painted have.”
Roy recalled an old church he painted in the community of Clarke’s Head. When he returned to the area years later, he found the church had been torn down. Now, it is only preserved in his painting.
While this time of year with the changing leaves is Roy’s favourite time to paint in the province, he has also painted in the harsh winters Newfoundland and Labrador are known for. He’s trudged out into the snow, fully equipped with a snowsuit and canvas, on several occasions.
The province’s changing climate has helped Roy’s speed of painting. Newfoundland weather is known for calm sunrises that can quickly turn into rainy storms.
“You can get all four seasons in one day, so I learned to paint very fast in Newfoundland,” Roy said with a laugh. “And sometimes, you have to paint fast before you get eaten by the flies.”
While painting in Forteau last July, Roy says he was bombarded by so many flies he couldn’t see his hands.
“You have to suffer to be an artist I guess,” Roy said.
With his work on display in 12 galleries from France, the United States and across Canada, his paintings stand as a strong promoter of the province’s natural beauty.
“I was very lucky to make a living as a painter,” Roy said. “I do a painting everyday, it is my diary.”
Returning to the island again and again over the past five decades, Roy says while he may be a foreigner he has a deep-rooted connection to Newfoundland and Labrador.
“My love for Newfoundland is something else,” he said. “I would never say a bad word about Newfoundland, it has done a lot for me.”