Clermont Duval, inspired by Back Roads Bill’s trail camera photos, gets permission to use photos as references for wildlife paintings
Art is all around us, especially in nature. There’s a new animal painting by a renowned French-Canadian artist featuring wolves and eagles and the inspiration comes from the back roads not so far away.
Like Robert Bateman, Clermont Duval is a well-known wildlife artist. Over the past 40 years, Duval has painted over 2,500 pieces, not including small paintings, book covers, and the thousands of drawings and paintings made for graphic novels.
Duval explains his inspiration.
“When I first saw one of the photos (Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles – Facebook/Instagram), I immediately realized the potential and authenticity of the scene. These exceptional shots are very rare and receiving permission to use them becomes an opportunity to take advantage of as an artist.
The Painter – Background
Author Louis Hémon wrote the French-Canadian novel, Marie Chapdelaine. Posthumously, it became a classic. Few Quebec books have 150 different editions and have been translated into more than 20 languages, inspired by three film adaptations and a play.
The story sold millions of copies at a time when book publishing and marketing had not yet developed. It has been described in French literary circles as “a sort of masterpiece, both in form and in accuracy and truth of observation”.
Duval, illustrated the modern version of the story, with over 300 pen and ink sketches. These had a huge influence on the storyboard of the 1983 film version of the novel.
The novel’s author and artist and storyteller both have roots in the same environment that influenced the screenplay and the canvas. The latter was inspired by the lifestyle and chance portrayed in the novel. This is his new animal/landscape painting.
Duval was born in the town of St. Éleuthère in Kamouraska, Quebec, a rural farming country to a family of 15 children.
Four generations of loggers have lived off the land. In the early sixties, his family “followed the pines” to the Mattawa area. But he broke the family mould.
A passion for drawing developed very young, so young, “I can’t remember being without pencil and paper.”
He always created worlds and objects he couldn’t access, always making them available in two dimensions.
Duval avoided tragedy. On August 25, 1973, he was involved in a very serious boating accident. His private boat exploded and he suffered burns to over 50% of his body. This accident could have deprived him of all hope of becoming an artist.
“I promised myself that if I regained the use of my hands, I would spend the rest of my life as a full-time artist,” he said.
His hands are healed and he kept his promise. August 25, 1994; the same date of his accident, saw the opening of the artist’s own gallery.
His first love in art was writing and illustrating graphic novels.
In 1975, he published his first book entitled The war with fists. In 1978, he wrote and illustrated his sixth story – The human weapon.
This is how the opportunity arose to write and represent in the form of a graphic novel, the story of Maria Chapdelaine (the heroine of Louis Hémon). The original collection of Duval’s drawings is housed at the Louis Hémon Museum in Péribonka, Quebec.
In 1990, Duval began his Children and wildlife series that mixes both writing and painting. In this medium, the artist truly discovered himself.
“A long time ago, I was working with a co-editor in Montreal and I was illustrating and writing graphic novels in French of course. When I started painting, I miss telling stories, and that’s what the children in the nature series were doing, a way to tell stories using children, ”said Duval . “Children would fit in with nature so much better than adults, even with the native and his wonderful art, they blend in and become part of the landscape.
The work of the admirable Violent was the first painting to be reproduced in a limited edition. For this print, not only would each piece be numbered and signed, but each would be fingerprinted and include a script.
He was the first artist to mark his reproductions with his fingerprints. Today, many artists in Canada and the United States have followed his example. Duval’s work is internationally recognized, with galleries in the United States, France and Germany showing several of his limited editions.
“Living in the North is the main reason to paint the environment, it’s limitless, the temperature, the seasons, the colors, the storms, the old buildings, the log cabins, the spectacular skies, the trappers, the naturalist, nature lovers, natives and their great conservationist culture, rivers and lakes, canoes and Voyageurs, history, stories and legends!”
He is famous for his series of portraits of the little red canoe.
“The red canoe has become the common noun, the connection, the calm way to move through the pristine bath of color and subject that is nature,” Duval said.
The settings for many of Duval’s landscapes are in the valleys of the Ottawa and Mattawa rivers, near the town and its camp on Lake Talon.
gold, silver and gray is the name of the 54″ x 28″ canvas painting that features a series of up-close and personal depictions of wolves and eagles (bald and golden) along a landscape background of the Mattawa River.
“The subject is caught on the spot; it’s not an animal portrait that breaks for the camera, no! It is the animal in action of survival directly in our part of the country”, says Duval. “It’s all there, the decor, the movement, the expression, the cold, the drama of the scene. It’s not the inspiration, it’s the fact and the challenge of capturing the brutal actions of nature by putting the pieces together.
“We understand that a deer has been hunted by wolves and the eagles, bald and golden, (another conflict) want to take the remains of the prey.
“No, I don’t show the dead animal, nor the blood, it’s not in the references either.
“The naturalist, who took the photos, explains it, that’s all, the rest is clear. In this drama, there is the beauty of the dance, the ritual and the fatality of the conflict.
“It is a privilege to compose with colors and brushes, a natural theater that has been common for millennia here in our Northern Ontario backyard.”
I am honored to say that Duval’s naturalist credentials are Back Roads Bill.
These are taken with trail cameras, over the last two winters; it was a COVID project as I continued to live out my Thoreau existence in the park and at the Canadian Ecology Center.
You bet I have to behave like an animal, a life outside has allowed me this privilege.
Wildlife are wary, alert and elusive at the best of times, so lens positioning of where they might turn or land is key to capturing this type of National Geographic shot.
There is no substitute for knowledge. You need to know the area, where the food is, where the animals go to drink, what places provide shelter from the weather.
You need to know how to spot animal trails, winter tracking becomes a skill, the range and distances they travel. You sift through thousands of nighttime snaps while waiting for the daytime, lucky frame.
Thoughts of anthropomorphism are replaced by the cycle of disease, starvation and predation that is reality.
In addition to getting to the site on snowshoes, I had to find deer carcasses, as wolves hunt deer on the ice where they are most vulnerable, while constantly repositioning the cameras. And don’t tell mum, having fallen through the ice in late March while retrieving a camera on thin ice (yikes).
Spending time with Dr. John Theberge with his wolf research and eventual booking helped me a lot in understanding wolf behavior.
I was appointed by the government to the former provincial wolf committee. This is a good use of ice cream containers to collect feces and urine samples along the way to replicate scent marking when approaching the prey scene; it’s a lot like building sand castles but in the snow.
I took all the trapping courses, the fur hunters taught me more than any ecology textbook. Thanks to Eldon Hawton, Mark Downey, Mark Taylor, Bob Barnes and Roger Labelle, they are the true guardians of nature.
Gord Restoule from Dokis First Nation was an Elder, a mentor, he took the time to tell stories to a settler, there is a process of sitting down to hear them many times before he can tell the story.
My highest accolades are not awards or degrees, but being welcomed into their community through a special eagle feather ceremony; I treasure my tobacco pouch and beaded totem star bestowed on me, I believe it led me to these opportunities because I am with the land and water through many indigenous teachings; I continue to learn to respect people’s culture, the land.
You can view the painting here or at the Duval Gallery and where the photos were taken on the Mattawa River.
Back to Duval.
“Now always the same question when I finish a painting, what’s next? Yes, I will keep an eye on Back Roads Bill Steer!
From the naturalist:
“Vitamin N brings a lot of comfort and entertainment. But being with nature is a humbling experience, you have to spend a lot of time outdoors to come to this realization, you will know it. The artwork and the photos tell me so.There is a lot of gratitude to give back, naturally on the back roads.