The day after our awesome ATV trip in Mattawa, Ontario was rainy and cold and we were all just wanting to go home. But Jeff came into Moosehead Estates and told us he had one more thing for us to see before we left.
Not wanting to seem rude, and knowing we were all on a press trip, and here as freelance journalists for Mattawa and Northern Ontario tourism, we all eyed each other, put on some smiles, and said “SURE!”.
Though inside the 3 of us were all going “UGH”.
Last group photo, in the rain.
We hurried to finish packing our bags, threw on our still soaked and mildewy smelling shoes, and after loading up the car, and pausing to take one last group photo in the rain, headed out into the dreary day to follow Jeff onto one last trip before the 4 hour drive home.
“We will just stay 20-30 min, to be polite, then just say we have to hurry back to get ready for the pre-TBEX craziness”. None of us wanted to be that person to complain, and like I said, we were working, but it was miserable, all our clothes were dirty, wet, and/or reeked of the stale smoke from the previous night’s campfire, and it was a drizzly, cloudy, just ambitiousless day to boot.
But from the moment we entered the tiny artist shop in the rural town of Mattawa, Ontario, Jeff had our attention. This shop was filled with beautiful paintings of snow covered woods, Canadian maple leaves, and detailed scenes mixed with native symbolism.
Inside the Clermont Duval art gallery in Mattawa, Ontario
And then he came out. The artist. From the second he opened his mouth we were spellbound. This humble looking man, with a beautiful French accent, invited us into his shop, into his world, and into the stories he depicts in such detail in his work.
His name is Clermont Duval.
Listening to Clermont Duval tell us the stories behind his paintings
Clermont Duval is an artist and a storyteller. He creates beautiful graphic novels, but instead of drawing them, like is common, he paints them. He painstakingly paints each page onto large canvases, then through a process he does himself, with machines he owns, he photocopies (to explain it in the simplest terms) each painting then prints them to create each page of his book. And he sells each original, one of a kind painting, which if you pre-buy before the book is published, allows you to have your name printed in the book. It is an amazing idea that I have never heard of before, but again, most graphic novelists don’t paint each page onto canvas first.
What I found the most interesting were his stories. Clermont can tell you the story behind each and every painting, and each and every painting had a native-influenced fairytale behind it.
As he walked us around, we began to learn that a single painting did not have a single story; that a series of seemingly different painting were actually continuations of a single, longer, multi-generational story and that sometimes spanned 3 or 4 paintings. Seeing just one painting was only part of these magical, mystical tales, that were so mesmerizing I was convinced they were actually traditional native tales. And then I learned that they are not, and that all the stories were created from the mind of a single man, Clermont Duval.
He also had paintings that changed depending on the angle you looked at them. Or if you had light behind them. From one angle you would see a picture of wolves running after something in the moonlight, then with a light behind the painting you see that the wolves are actually running from the eagles. The moral is things aren’t always what they appear to be on the surface.
Another amazing painting was a boat who always faces you, no matter where you stand. Two people can look at the same thing but each sees what is true to them. The time spent perfecting the angles to make this optical illusion happen solidified my conclusion that this storyteller-painter is a true genius and savant.
Suddenly we realize that we have all been drawn into his world of wolves, and snow, and trees, and talisman for almost 2 hours.
I could barely pull myself away. If I had my choice, I would have put on some slippers, made a cup of hot cocoa, pulled up a chair, and just sat there, listening to every single story behind every single painting.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so quiet in my life, but I was enchanted with his tales, as he told them in his passionate yet soothing French-accented voice. I never wanted to leave. I also desperately wish I had enough money on me to buy at least one print, one postcard, one anything to bring back with me. But I had to settle on photographs of the paintings, and the store, and this genius and charming man.
If you want to see Clermont Duval’s work, I’m going to give his details below. But seeing it is nothing like visiting the shop and actually listening to him tell the stories behind each painting. Plus there is so much hidden symbolism (some hidden because you may not understand, some hidden because he actually hides symbols in his paintings), just seeing the paintings come nowhere close to actually visiting his gallery.
If you are anywhere in Toronto, I would eagerly tell you the 4 hour drive to Mattawa, just to see this man and nothing else, is totally worth it. If you ever get an opportunity to go anywhere near Mattawa, you should stop by the Clermont Duval Mattawa Art Gallery for a visit.
And thank you Jeff and Mattawa Voyageur Country Tourism for bringing us. It was the perfect ending to our Mattawa and ATV trip.
Clermont Duval, and his work, can be found online at http://www.clermontduvalartgallery.com/
(website is in French, but Google will automatically translate it for you)
But it is even better if you can visit his gallery at:
Clermont Duval Art Gallery
313 main street,
(705) 744 0095
Fax: (705) 744 1629