The Places I Go: Exploring Newfoundland with Christopher Pratt

 

Christopher Pratt, March 2015. Photo: Ned Pratt

Christopher Pratt is sitting in his studio, reflecting upon his work. He’s thousands of miles away, but the distance is immaterial as he shares his thoughts with passion and humour. 

Pratt is being interviewed by NGC Magazine on his most recent exhibition The Places I Go, currently on view at The Rooms in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He’s pleased with the outcome, and keen to meet visitors on a sold-out private tour. “It’s been an entirely positive experience for me,” he says. “I’m totally happy with it.”

Born in St. John’s in 1935, Pratt spent the majority of his early life in Newfoundland before attending Mount Allison University in 1953. Here, he met Alex Colville and Lawren P. Harris, who encouraged him to pursue his art. He studied in Scotland from 1957 to 1959, before completing his fine arts degree at Mount Allison in 1961. Since then, his work has been exhibited around the world, and he has earned renown as one of Canada’s most iconic painter-printmakers.


Christopher Pratt, Winter at Whiteway (2004), oil on canvas, 203.2 x 203.2 cm. Collection of W.J. Wyatt. Photo: Mira Godard Gallery

The National Gallery of Canada has nearly 60 of Pratt’s works in its collection, including Argentia: The Ruins of Fort McAndrew: After the Cold War (2013), which was generously purchased and donated to the Gallery in May 2014 by five patrons. In addition, visitors to the exhibition, Alex Colville, currently on view at the National Gallery, will see Pratt’s painting Sackville Attic (2012), which re-creates Colville’s attic studio from the 1950s — a time when the two were at Mount Allison University.

In addition to being a successful professional artist, however, Pratt is also a collector, a traveller, and a consummate storyteller. His warmth makes complete strangers feel like old friends, and his portrayal of Newfoundland makes outsiders feel like seasoned locals. His Newfoundland home is the primary inspiration behind most of his work, and permeates this latest exhibition.

The Places I Go looks at the work that Christopher Pratt has created since his last major exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 2005,” said curator Mireille Eagan in an interview with NGC Magazine. “It’s intended to show the breadth of his career, and just how multifaceted his work can be.”

 

Christopher Pratt, Sunset at Squid Cove (2004), oil on canvas, 101.6 x 167.6 cm. Private collection. Photo: Mira Godard Gallery

The exhibition consists of approximately 35 paintings and prints inspired by Pratt’s extensive travels throughout Newfoundland over the past 10 years. Completed entirely from memory, these new works are his interpretation of the island’s diverse landscape.

“None of the paintings is directly representative of a particular place,” says Pratt. “They’re based on the places I go — the geography of those places, and my relationship with them. They are, in a way, imaginary, spiritual, and conceptual places.”

Although they cannot be pinpointed geographically, each work epitomizes an important memory or experience for Pratt. “All of the paintings mean something to me,” he says. “When I look at them, I remember the places they came from, and how I felt about that place when I was there.”

   

Christopher Pratt, Winter Solstice Drive to St. Anthony, Full Moon Rising (2008), oil on canvas, 115.6 x 177.8 cm. Collection of W.J. Wyatt. Photo: Mira Godard Gallery

Upon entering the gallery, visitors are guided through a re-creation of Pratt’s studio, which has been filled with the souvenirs and trinkets that inspire his work: images of people, jars of sand, piles of rocks, and heavy logs. The studio scene — which Eagan describes as “wonderfully reflective of his practice” — is meant to shine light on the unique process by which Pratt instils memory in his work.

Also on display are the diaries Pratt takes with him on the road. “While he’s travelling,” says Eagan, “he writes in what he calls ‘car books,’ which are these simple lined journals in which he records everything from the feeling of light upon his hand at the beach to what he ate at Tim Hortons.”

The exhibition includes a number of vernacular works, focusing on the architecture and industry of Newfoundland, as well as a series of minimalist paintings. In Sand and Ice (2005) and Cape Norman from Barge Bay (2007), for example, Pratt has used careful geometry to capture the endless beauty and quiet simplicity of the horizon.


Christopher Pratt, Cape Norman from Barge Bay (2007), oil on board, 66 x 76.2 cm. Private collection. Photo: The Rooms

“The minimalist works are absolutely eloquent and unusual,” says Eagan. “He’s basically distilled the horizon down to a series of lines. He doesn’t want the distractions of narrative. He wants to have an inherent respect for the image and for the experience itself.”

Through his art, Pratt seeks to convey his sincere appreciation for his home province. “I hope that people will feel that I have a love, affection, and respect for the subjects I portray,” he says. “I hope that they will sense that I have given it my best shot, and that I have taken care and presented it properly.”

And, in the midst of what he’s hoping to accomplish today, he forever remains two steps ahead. “No matter how much hoopla — deserved or otherwise — you have surrounding you, the important thing is the quality of that next thing you’re going to do,” Pratt says.

“In the back of my mind, I’m always thinking about what I’m going to do next.”

The Places I Go is on view at The Rooms in St. John’s, NL until September 6, 2015.

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