Artist Jared Betts visits artist Claude Roussel
Photos and story by Jared Betts
It was a cold November blue sky day that I set off to Barachois to do a studio visit with Claude Roussel.
Before I talk about my day, I'll give some back story. Paul Edouard Bourque curated a show by Claude called 2014 - EROS ET TRANSFIGURATION, which travelled to Galerie Bernard Jean, Caraquet, Galerie Colline, Edmundston and then to The New Brunswick Museum in Saint John, all New Brunswick galleries. He then curated a show for Romeo Savoie last year, who lives close to Claude. Paul asked if I could drive him out to Barachois to visit both Claude and Romeo and act as a sort of assistant curator. So we did. When we walked in the door, Claude and his wife Raymonde greeted us and he said "Welcome, I'm going to show you what being in the arts scene for 50 years is like!" Right off the bat I was super excited to learn. Paul and Claude had business to discuss, so I knew that I needed to go back on my own for a longer visit to get to know Claude. I wanted to go visit him, but as I was busy finishing up a lot of stuff including a mural in Dieppe at École le Marais Antonine-Maillet and doing work for Images Remanentes, Claude and I had several phone conversations and emails. A visit was set for November.
I knew I wanted to go early and stop at the beach as once the cold weather hits most of us in Moncton don't think to go out to the beach. I stopped at Sandy Beach Trailer park and it was so cold but beautiful. There was a huge sheet of ice covering all of the pavement and fields.
Interesting to see a place that's usually a summer spot in November when no one is there. I find the beach really peaceful and sublime in the late fall/winter. After being there for 20 minutes I was super cold and decided it was time to get to Claude's house. When I pulled into his driveway there were many birds flying around to all his bird feeders and a few Blue Jays which are one of my favorite birds. As he welcomed me in he commented on my jacket which was my grandmother's vintage lavender parka with an Inuit embroidery on the sleeve. Right away I was struck by the entry of his house, which has sky light, windows and light that shines beautifully onto his sculptures and paintings. We went to one of the windows and he told me how he used to have a summer home closer to the water but then he built this current house 20 years ago and rented the summer house out. He talked about a sculpture in his yard that was called Lightning Bolt and it was dark and shaped a little like a lightning bolt. He mentioned there is a Herons nest in one of the trees but they migrated south for the winter. We stayed in his living room for a bit and I asked him about the Mountains Series, as seen in the photo below.
(Right before his wife took this photo he put my arm up in the air and said "He's doing great in art!")
These three mountain works were done after he retired. He said he wanted to go see the mountains since he spent so much time working in the basement. So if I remember correctly, he travelled out west, to Hawaii and also southern United States and he documented his adventures seeing the mountains through paint. I really love the color palette he used in these paintings. There was also several really beautiful wood carvings in his entry way above the door. We next went over to a shelf with tons of maquettes for large sculptures and he told me about some that weren't approved. Most of his successful maquettes for sculptures are on display at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, NB. There was also a very cool old photo from a newspaper of him and Lord Beaverbrook. He kept stopping and saying "If you have any questions stop me, we are supposed to be talking about you too and giving advice." To which I replied it's all good I want to hear it all! One of the things he told me was this: "there's no secret route to follow in art to success but just trying different things and putting yourself out there."
After looking at the maquettes we went into a nice sunny room. He said he usually works in the garage and upstairs, really every room is his studio. I can relate because when I moved home from Montreal my parents house has 5 or 6 rooms filled with my art and a studio in the basement. In this room he was working on a really cool colorful series of paint on wood. I don't want to give away any secrets but it looked very interesting, the bright colors intrigued me. Before entering the room a cube piece really caught my eye with a plant on it and little cat water and food beside it on a mat. I kept thinking about that cool cube printing piece with astronauts on it. Sometimes I get shy about taking photos but at one point I jumped in and asked him if I could go take a picture of that cube piece? Of course he said yes. I love the colors and the decision of the repeated astronaut print, it was very different from all of his other works yet it had that same painterly, sculptural feel. I could have stared at that cube for hours! We chatted for a couple hours, about murals, about his time teaching, his time in Edmundston, the man has done it all!
Before I went to visit Claude I sent him images of the mixed media paintings using a butterfly that was silkscreened. I said how getting near the end of a painting it's hard to know, you have to make an impact with new gestures and lines. To which he said he was impressed by my association of figurative image and color compositions. It's good to make risks that are successful. In this case it added more flavor and intrigue to your shapes and color, but it's just as important to know when to stop the painting as well. As artists we can sometimes over work pieces at times, so ending a painting is a real art in itself! With that said I think I will end this piece with a quote Claude said to me as we were looking out his window at the birds. He said there is no such thing as art, only artists making art. Which is a quote by Ernst Gombrich, and it makes so much sense, we spend so much time trying to figure out what our art means, yet it's best just to get to work. I asked Claude if I could write about my visit after being asked by Marie Helene from Created Here to which he said:
"By all means, feel free to write about your visit. I also enjoyed very much your enthusiasm and openness to hear and see what I’ve been through in a half century, trying to evolve as an artist in NB."
My visits with Claude are always so memorable because he has so much wonderful experience that inspires my artistic journey.
See more of Claude's work
See more of Jared's work