Friday, 24 August 2018

Appreciating Mary Pratt

“I think with my work. Even things that are ordinary are not ordinary. Because I don’t really believe that anything is ordinary – I think everything is complex and worthy of conjecture and worthy of a close look. I really believe that you could imagine the secrets of the universe by looking at a pile of grapes.”

– Mary Pratt, Canadian Artist, 1935-2018

An early blog post this week.

The iconic Canadian artist Mary Pratt died at age 83 on August 21 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. (Link)

She will be missed.

Her luminous paintings – from tin foil to trussed moose – burst with life, muscularity, and barely concealed rage. Her work used to be dismissed as kitchen gothic. Which, of course, totally misses the point of her paintings. Yes, much of her work revolves around stereotypical themes of ‘women’s things’. But by breaking free of the constraints and expectations placed on her, she explored her power to see the world on her own terms. 

For many years, she was married to the Newfoundland artist Christopher Pratt. 

Lawren Harris Jr. (son of the Group of Seven artist) once told her, “Now, you have to understand in a family of painters, there can only be one painter, and in your family, it’s going to be Christopher. So why don’t you just understand that and look after the house and the children?” 

The world is a better place because she ignored that advice.

Interestingly, it was her husband Christopher who introduced her to the concept of working from slides and photographs. The technique allowed her to capture the telling moment with a camera and then render it later in her studio with exquisite detail. She did not copy; she re-cast, adding her own life force. 

Mary Pratt’s 2014 retrospective at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, was stunning. Bill and I spent hours inhaling its energy. The exhibit poster, which features her 1999 painting “Jelly Shelf”, graces our kitchen. How lovely to enjoy it every day. It reminds me of the energy that Bill brings to our kitchen and my life every day.

Pratt’s use of photographs intrigues me now that I am honing my own photographic eye. Similar to her, I love finding beauty in the ordinary. The insignificant detail magnified into the compelling image. Or at least that is my goal. And the spirit of Mary Pratt helps motivate me.

Thank you, Mary Pratt. Your paintings reflect elements of our nation’s soul. And you have joined my list of mentors.

I hope the following photos evoke, in my small way, the spirit of Mary Pratt. They were all recorded on Long Island, New York, in the last few days. Enjoy.

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