Monday, 13 May 2013

All hail matriarch Mary Pratt

CBC photo of Mary Pratt at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery May 11,2013.

The Friday evening reception for the Mary Pratt retrospective at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery was a major event that truly felt like a celebration.  It was a much-needed pick-me-up after the provincial government cutbacks, which matriarch Mary Pratt denounced on the Radio Noon call in program on CBC the following Monday.  She said that any government that put oil before art was doomed to failure because the oil would go but the art would remain.  Politics were put aside on opening night and the event was attended by all and sundry.  It was good to see the opening attracting not just the regular art community but also a wide cross section of the public.  In her remarks, Pratt expressed surprise that "so many of you apparently like painting".

Pratt took a very casual approach in her remarks and did not talk about her inspiration or process.  Instead, she talked about the loneliness of her early life in Newfoundland out in Salmonier, pointing out that she only learned to drive at age 52.  She was clearly thrilled by the attendance of her family members, particularly her children, grandchildren and a great-grandchild.  The show will be touring for three years after its summer at The Rooms and representatives from the other venues were present - as was Mary's commercial dealers such as Emma Butler (St. John's) and the Mira Goddard Gallery (Toronto).  (The Mira Goddard Gallery in Montreal was the first gallery I ever got thrown out of!  I think it was because my photographer from the Loyola News took a photograph of a Jackson Pollock without permission.)

Mary Pratt says this painting of her daughter with cold cream is the fastest painting she has ever done - 2 hours from start to finish.  Usually her paintings take months.

The exhibition is a grand sprawling show filled with riches including many of Pratt's best-known and iconic works.  One of my favourite images is of dainty porcelain figurines of gentlewomen that have been placed in a glass fruit bowl.  I believe it dates from 1997 and I recall discussing the painting with Mary when she first made it.  She explained that she had been dusting a shelf and put the figurines in the bowl for safety on a nearby table.  Boldly I commented, "so you felt trapped in your domesticity" to which Mary remarked that I was too smart for my own good.  Pratt has always avoided interpreting her painting.  She describes herself as a "visual artist not an intellectual one".  Pratt paints something because she likes the look of it.  I will be curious to see what curator Mireille Eagan had to say in her catalogue essay.  Eagan is still a relatively young curator (I remember when Mary Pratt first met Mireille she commented "you can't be a curator you look like your sixteen".) and this show will be a feather in her cap.  It is unfortunate that Eagan's position has been eliminated with the cuts but she couldn't be going out with a bigger bang.


  1. I just love Mary Pratt's work, and years ago I met her at a Toronto show.
    She's wonderful. This fast painting is superb.

  2. Mary combines many admirable attributes. She is always a lady but always outspoken! Had the pleasure of meeting her again last week with Barbie too! I was meeting with her son Ned the photographer. A royal family!