The allure of an irregular sun

I have been thinking about the shape of the sun. You know it is definitely round because you can see it is in the early morning, or behind cloud or come to think of it in these extraordinary pictures by NASA. The rest of the time you can’t see the shape of it because, if it is out and shining it is simply too bright to look at. I have been reflecting on the appearance of the sun because I have just spent a few days with friends staying with prolific landscape artist Jean-Claude Roy and his Canadian wife Christina at their beautiful farmhouse in the heart of the Charente-Maritime. Roy is quite an extraordinarily successful artist, represented by some 15 galleries in France, Canada and the US. He finds it hard to keep up with the demand for his work.

Jean-Claude Roy is seen in the rear of his studio surrounded by his paintings
Jean-Claude Roy preparing paintings for exhibition in his studio

He must also be one of the most productive artists alive today. Some  forty-five years ago he read that Picasso had painted 10,000 works in the course of his lifetime. Roy decided to see if he could do the same. He reckons that so far he has totalled 6,800. Some 800 of his paintings of Newfoundland ‘outports’ – fishing villages – have been brought together in a book designed by Christina; already it is on its second printing.

When I caught up with him, he was busy preparing for his next exhibition and there were paintings everywhere in the large airy studio where the works are finished. While Roy works in the French impressionist tradition by painting outside, he also likes to view his paintings under artificial light because that is how they will be seen when purchased.

A painting by Jean-Claude Roy is on a table outside his studio
A painting by Jean-Claude Roy of the market at Saintes
The same square as shown in Jean-Claude Roy's painting of the market at Saintes
The square at Saintes where the market took place

Roy specialises in the landscapes of the Charente-Maritime and of Newfoundland and, possibly because it may be difficult to paint in the open on rainy days, the sun appears in many of his paintings and has become something of a trademark. He explained to me that while the landscapes he paints are all of actual places, the sky is largely abstract. In early works the sun appears to have started out as an orb but one day after trying to peer at the sun too closely he was left with black spots in front of the eyes which lasted for days; after that the suns in his paintings became black and dotty, then over time he came to depict them as black in an otherwise sunny sky.  These days the sun is more usually an irregular shape but often with a black edge.

 A painting in the studio of Jean-Claude Roy; it has a characteristic black sun
A painting by Jean-Claude Roy showing a black sun
A painting of the Charente Maritime landscape in Jean-Claude Roy's studio
A work being finished in Jean-Claude Roy’s studio

Amazingly, after looking at the landscapes in the studio and then touring round the Charente-Maritime  and seeing the old towns, the ‘claires’, salt water ponds, where the famous oysters are produced, and noticing the extraordinary light of the region produced by the mixture of land and marsh and sea, not only did the landscape seem more and more to resemble one of his paintings but the sun itself coming out behind cloud, seemed to take on that characteristic irregular shape with a black edge.

More paintings can be seen on Roy’s website:

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