The Proust Questionnaire: Christopher Pratt
The Proust Questionnaire started as a Late Victorian parlour game, aimed at revealing key aspects of a person’s character. While still in his teens, author Marcel Proust answered a similar series of questions with such enthusiasm that, when the manuscript containing his original answers was discovered in 1924, his name became permanently associated with this type of informal interview.
Photo © Ned Pratt
Christopher Pratt is one of Canada’s most prominent painters and printmakers. Born in Newfoundland in 1935, he began painting watercolours in 1952, earning a BFA in 1961 from Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, where he also met his first wife, artist Mary Pratt.
From 1961 to 1963, he worked as a curator and instructor at the Memorial University Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador), where his first solo exhibition was held in 1965. Since then, his work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions around the world, including a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 2005. His life and artistic career have also been explored in numerous publications, including catalogues, biographies, and collections of Pratt’s own writings.
Over the years, Pratt has received many awards and honours. In 1965, he was made an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy of Art and a member of the Canadian Society of Graphic Art. In 1980, he was commissioned to design the provincial flag for Newfoundland and Labrador, and in 1983, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. In addition, he has served on a number of boards, including the federal government’s Stamp Design Advisory Committee, and the Board of the Canada Council for the Arts.
Since 1963, Pratt has lived and worked in Salmonier, St. Mary’s Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador. The culture, weather, light, and geography of Newfoundland infuse his work, which features dreamlike but meticulous images of people, landscapes, waterscapes and architecture. His iconic work can be found in public and private collections around the world, including the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.
Your earliest memory of art:
My mother painting Christmas cards with liquid “poster” colours that smelled of formaldehyde, when I was four years old.
When you knew this would become your vocation:
Your greatest influence:
My grandfather, Jim Pratt (1880–1956). My environment — social, geographical and spiritual.
Occupation you would have chosen (other than art):
Marine biologist; engineer.
Favourite pastime (other than art):
Walking; driving at night — late, with a winding, hilly, two-lane road to myself.
Alex Colville (Honorous causa). Winslow Homer — or Edward Hopper — or Balthus — or . . .
Favourite writer and musician/composer:
Ernest Hemingway/Robert Frost.
Favourite colour, flower and bird:
Blue (not Prussian); native (wild) blue iris; willow ptarmigan (land); gannet (sea).
Favourite food and drink:
Fresh pan-fried cod; hot strong tea (no milk, no sugar).
Favourite smell and sound:
The forest and barrens after rain; the seashore after an onshore gale of wind (wind in the rigging; rain on the roof).
My 1953 watercolour box; a talismanic beach rock (which I had for a long time, but no longer have).
Favourite environment or landscape:
The Great Northern Peninsula, the Strait of Belle Isle, the Burgeo Road and St. Mary’s Bay, where I live in Newfoundland.
Favourite weather or season:
Don’t like spring; much prefer late summer, fall, mid-winter.
Favourite expression, catchphrase, proverb or word:
Expression: (I won’t admit to this one) I will ‘duck’ it.
Catchphrase: Life is not a rehearsal!
Proverb: Time and tide wait for no man (person).
I am not stingy.
Your definition of happiness:
Liking where you live, what you are doing, and with whom you are doing it.
Ideal place to live:
On the 45,000-square-mile Island of Newfoundland.
A recurring dream:
Rivers where I fished when I was a boy.
That I could thank my parents for their understanding, patience and support.
Aspirations before you die:
To keep on truckin’.
To me art is:
Celebrating the gift of consciousness.*
* Being an assembly of molecules, perhaps the only molecules of matter in the universe that know they are matter — and that matters.
Click here to view works by Christopher Pratt housed in the National Gallery of Canada's permanent collection.