France Jodoin: Artist of the Week

A contemporary artist known for her maritime scenes and unique, European Romanticism-inspired style, France Jodoin began her career studying various techniques in art schools throughout Quebec and Ontario. Inspired by old masters such as Mallord William Turner, Rembrandt, and Gustave Mureau, Jodoin uses her own semi-abstract style to create the bold landscapes she is known for. Her work is intuitive, instinctive, and transcendent. Jodoin is intrigued with time and the brevity of life, both of which are themes found throughout her body of work.

Jodoin has gained wide recognition in Canada, the United States, and Europe, where she is exhibited and has been featured as artist-in-residence. Her work is in public collections including the Sherbrooke Museum of Fine Arts, Loto-Quebec, and Cirque du Soleil. She lives and works in a small town nestled in the forests of southern Quebec.

An Interview with France Jodoin

Why do you do what you do?

Because this is the only place where I forget I even breathe. Time has no essence when I am in my studio. Three hours can go by and when I look at the clock, it feels I walked in ten minutes ago. When I paint, it is as if I do not even exist. It is a strange thing to say, I know, but I can only compare this state of mind – timelessness -- to how I feel at any other moment during the day when I am busy doing something other than painting, and there is simply no other place like this.

How do you work?

My work is instinctive in the sense that I do not plan much. I start generally with an abstract landscape and as I paint, marks are made that guide me towards a more specific image. It is pointless for me to even try to be more specific by wanting to know from the start what the painting will look like and what the colors will be like. I know from experience that so many changes during the process of painting. I leave myself a lot of room to move, so to speak because I want to keep that feeling I had when I started to paint 20 years ago, the freedom I felt then, and gave myself to explore a whole new territory without censorship.

"My paintings are a collage of many pieces of information, and they never represent something, someone, or somewhere specific. I am inspired by a trip I may have taken years ago, a clip from a film, or abstract thoughts that I am compelled to express on canvas. But each piece shares in common an invitation to the viewer to become part of the narrative."

France Jodoin

What’s your background?

I was a translator for almost 20 years before I started to paint. I am a self-taught artist. I would say that I did not choose to become an artist, but that art chose me. It happened when my sister, who is also an artist and was teaching an art class in Montreal, invited me to join her group of students. I initially refused since I had never done anything like that before, but she convinced me to come and I did. That night changed the rest of my life. I walked out of that three-hour class not understanding what had happened. Seemingly, I had forgotten everything, the stress of deadlines with my translation job, where I was, everything, even myself!  I took that class for three years before I started to paint a few days, then a week here and there, then a month. At one point, I had to make a choice and made a huge leap of faith to become a full-time visual artist.

How has your practice changed over time?

I do not purposely decide to change anything to my practice. I agree with Matisse who said that first, you need an idea, the rest comes with painting. I am essentially an oil painter and with over 20 years of practice, I have explored other media, such as printmaking and watercolors, but they have never accounted for a large part of my practice. I think the biggest change in my practice over the last 20 years was the move from a pocket-size studio to the vast attic of my house, where I have the height and room necessary to paint large works. In that sense, my work changed physically, from smaller canvasses to larger formats.

What work do you most enjoy doing?

I particularly love painting large works because they give more freedom to my gestural process of painting, which is physically impossible with smaller works. And I love to leave the studio for a month to go abroad and paint. I am a studio painter, meaning I never paint outdoors. Doing artist residencies regularly allows me to see and observe landscapes, outdoor scenes, varied architectures I am later inspired to integrate into my paintings.

"I work primarily in oil, but also sketch, and create prints in aquatint and sugar lift. As a painter, I don’t approach the canvas with a preconceived idea. If I do, the painting inevitably goes wrong. My painting is intuitive and instinctive. I seem to need ambiguity and contrast. I want a painting to be representative enough that a viewer can see a figure in a dress, a port city architecture, or a boat on the water, but at the same time I’m not interested in trying to recreate a scene or a specific geographical location."

France Jodoin

What themes do you pursue?

The imagery in my work has always included water and skies, those two vast spaces in between which I place architectures, boats, the human figure, and flowers – my main subjects.

Describe a real-life situation that inspired you.

A few years ago, I traveled to India. I was able to do an excursion through the jungle on top of an elephant. It was not the elephant that impressed me so much as its height. I was perched on that animal so high so that when I looked down, everything but particularly the people looked mesmerizingly small. It left a deep impression on my mind and it is only years later that I introduced in my paintings the very small-scale figures besides huge architectures.

What is an artistic outlook on life?

To find beauty in all that our senses perceive.

"I get inspiration from my travels. What comes to me is not necessarily what I have seen, but what I have felt. It can stay in my head for years; it is like a bank from which I withdraw inspiration to work. Ideas come to the surface, not unlike waves that come and go — waves whose ebb and flow I do not control. I am very much a gestural painter, I attack the canvas, so to speak; it is intuitive. The image is built, taken apart, and rebuilt with every brush stroke."

France Jodoin

What’s your favorite or most inspirational place?

I would definitely and without hesitation say the ocean. Water is at the center of my work, in every painting, whether it looks like a frozen pond, a river, the sea, or wet pavement.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Never say you can’t before you have tried, plunge then analyze.

“I try to create places where people can rest as landscapes do. For me, a landscape is never aggressive. It is restful, meditative, and contemplative. I want people who view my paintings to take the time to take the time.”

France Jodoin