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Christopher John Pratt

View Christopher John Pratt's Gallery


b. 1935

Born in St. John's, Newfoundland, the son of John Kerr and Christine Emily (Dawe) Pratt, he had close ties with his grandfather James C. Pratt who started painting as a hobby shortly after his 60th birthday in 1940.

Christopher attended Holloway Primary School in St. John's (1939-46); Prince of Wales College Secondary School, St. John's (1946-52); Engineering, Memorial University, St. John's, and started painting as a hobby (1952). He changed courses and enrolled in pre-med. at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., in 1953 but again changed courses to general arts at that University during the same year.

He was interested around this time in poetry. He did not drink alcoholic beverages or tag along with a group of students. In his English class he became friends with Mary West, a fine arts student. Mary took up watercolours to work along with Christopher and share something in common. It was Mary who eventually persuaded him to switch to fine arts because of his unusually fine talent in painting. He entered fine arts and studied for two-and-a-half years before becoming restless and anxious to try painting full time in his home city of St. John's.

As early as 1953 attention was drawn to his coastal scenes and recorded in the Daily News, whose columnist felt there was "excellent painting for the days ahead" for him. Pratt worked mainly in watercolours at that time, selecting local architectural themes, and averaged selling a painting a week. Finally he felt he was ready for further study.

Mary and Christopher realized how compatible they were and married in 1957. After seeking advice from their former professors on what and where to study they decided Christopher should attend the Glasgow School of Art. They sailed on the freighter-passenger vessel Nova Scotia. In Glasgow Christopher followed a rigorous course in drawing, sculpture, design, lettering, crafts and graphics. He received important direction from Miss Alex Dick.

After almost two-and-a-half years (1957-59) Mary and Christopher felt lonesome for Canada. They returned home and continued courses in fine arts at Mount Allison, graduating together with their B.F.A. (1959-61). Afterwards, they moved to St. John's where Christopher took the job of running the gallery at Memorial University and teaching extension classes at the University at night. His classes were made up of somewhat indifferent non-serious students, which was disappointing for him, and his program left him little time for himself. He was waiting for the break to paint full-time.

In 1958, while they were in Scotland, the Pratt's first child John was born. Their box-like CMHC house was located in a transient neighborhood that had the frequent traffic of moving vans. He continued at the University until 1963, when his family had grown to three children. Anne was born in 1960 and Barbara in 1963.

In the spring of 1963 he quit his job to fulfil his plans of painting full-time. He took his family to St. Catherine's, St. Mary's Bay, where they set up home in an old summer house owned by his father. After visiting them sometime later, Harry Bruce described the location in Maclean's as follows, "The place is on the banks of the Salomonier River, where the river joins St. Mary's Bay, and the Pratts live there under Canada geese, eagles, bitterns, gulls, ospreys, black ducks, golden ducks, mergansers, 'practically every bird in Newfoundland.' Seals cruise and otters romp in their river pond. Their four kids boat there, swim there, skate there. Mary can call them home for supper from the kitchen door; and supper, on any summer day that anyone feels like fishing, will be trout caught just off their lawn. Moose sometimes amble in among the flowers, the pretty hardwoods, the blackberries, gooseberries, the vegetable garden and loose toys and sports gear that surround the house. A stone-lined creek splits the sloping grass, and rattles down to the river."

Their fourth child, Edwyn, was born in 1965. After settling there, Christopher's first works were watercolours and drawings of old shops, closed places of business and other architectural themes.

During his studies he had found certain artists past and present of great interest including Giotto, The Van Eycks, Bruegels, Rembrandt, Eakins, Hopper, Balthus, Pollock, Henry Moore, Cezanne and others. "At Mount Allison," he once explained, "although I was registered in courses of which he (Colville) was the head, I never was in a classroom in which he taught. Most of us worked at home and then brought our painting in for criticism. While it is logical to make a comparison, I think if our works were seen side by side, the differences would be rather more striking than the similarities. Lawren Harris Jr. was already working in a very precise hard-edge style and actually I think an analysis might suggest that I got more from him."

Nevertheless Pratt's figure paintings do suggest some Colville influence (see Paul Duval's High Realism in Canada for good quality reproductions; also Patricia Godsell's Enjoying Canadian Painting for a straightforward analysis of his painting The Bed). Describing Pratt's work in 1977 Michael Greenwood in Artscanada wrote, "Pratt is absorbed by the task of giving visual shape to dimensions of consciousness that are essentially metaphysical without recourse to a purely non-objective sign language. He chooses to clothe the abstraction of his ideas in recognizable forms not from any particular interest in naturalism as such but to add a psychological component of symbolic reference and tension to the underlying proposition. But when Pratt has applied his visual razor to the familiar motifs of windows, doors, walls, architraves and newel posts the latter have been pared down to the barest bones and retain only a nominal connection with their real functions in the context of human existence. What finally remains is an elemental system of dynamic relationships based on the square, the circle and the triangle, quite as abstract in its way as anything in the work of Mondrian, Newman or Rothko, artists who also were concerned with the pursuit of universal truths."

Pratt's taking of real objects and eliminating their flaws, eg. Broken shingles or window panes, warped or broken timbers, which a realist might meticulously include, and further refining his selected elements by eliminating nature's normal clutter, makes a statement of such clarity and stillness that the viewer tends to be drawn into meditation by the sheer quiet or calm of the work and its apparent timelessness. His figure studies are also rendered with equal perfection. He rarely does a painting that represents a specific place or person, but rather one that represents an idea expressed through his modified real objects.

He did his first figure painting in oils "Woman at a Dresser" in 1964 which was completely worked out before he called in a live model. When in doubt he sticks to his original working drawing if his model's proportions tend to change it too much. For the above painting he created his own furniture design and selected the wallpaper from an Eaton's mail-order catalogue.

Michael Greenwood goes on to explain that Pratt's work in printmaking is even more demanding of him as follows, "In his graphic works the intensity and strenuous concentration of Pratt's vision surpasses even the formidable level achieved in the paintings. To ensure the absolute precision of his images in the medium of the serigraph demands an almost inhuman accuracy of registration with the various colour separations and screens involved." He usually makes editions between thirty and sixty prints. He was commissioned in 1978 by the Canada Council Art Bank to make a print suitable for government offices.

Although he has done considerable work in serigraph he hopes to spend more of his future time as a painter. He works so carefully at his paintings that he produces only about three a year. Their market value rose from $8,000 in 1973 to $30,000 in 1980. One work consisting of five panels, entitled "Me And Bride" sold for something between $65,000 and $70,000. His silk screens have also risen quite dramatically in price.

He produced one silk screen for each of the three parts of the book Christopher Pratt, a limited edition of 279 copies. The overall production, in addition to the silk screen prints, contains 60 colour and 16 black-and-white plates along with numerous studies and documentary photographs. Each book is bound by hand using high quality materials. The text for the book was written by David Silcox, a personal friend of the artist, and Merike Weiler. The book was designed by Ken Rodmell. The publishing house, Quintus Press of Toronto, is a partnership of Mira Godard, Anna Porter, Ernie Herzig, Roderick Brinckman and Michael de Pencier.

At home in St. Catherines, Mary and Christopher have separate studios but share their breaks together. Mary, a realist painter, has become increasingly popular over the years. Christopher's other interests include: Design for a Newfoundland flag; stamp collecting and stamp designing; politics; writing poetry (He has given readings in various centres in Canada. E.J. Pratt a noted poet, was his grand-uncle,); and sailing.

He acquired his first boat in 1961. He has sailed his own yacht from Newfoundland to Ontario and back, twice (in 1974 and 1977) to attend his solo shows at Mira Godard Gallery in Toronto. His activity in sailing is reflected in his work, as in his serigraph New Boat (1975) described by Michael Greenwood as follows, "...New Boat...not only reaches an extraordinary standard of technical perfection but as an image lacks none of the formal subtleties and inner meanings that distinguish his finest paintings. The graceful but stringently functional and dynamic lines of the ship's hull suspended in space like a vision of hope (a Noah's Ark) against the cosmic infinities of time and space seem to epitomize the historic adaptability of human life to the forces of the universe."

Exhibitions and Shows:

He has participated in many group shows including:
Canadian Biennials in 1961, 1963, 1965, 1968
Winnipeg Biennial, 1966
Magic Realism, London (1971)
Canadian Society of Graphic Arts (annual shows)
Atlantic Artists of Canada (1971)
Canada Trajectoire at Musee d'Art Moderne, Paris, France (1974) and other shows since then.
His solo shows include:
Memorial Univ., St. John's Nfld. (1966)
Memorial Univ./Gal. Godard-Lefort, Mtl., travelling retrospective (1970)
Memorial Univ., St. John's, Nfld. (1972)
Malborough Godard Gal., Mtl. (1973)
Memorial Univ. for Atlantic Provinces Art Circuit (1973)
Malborough Godard Gal., in Mtl., Tor., NYC. (1976)
Malborough Godard Gal. & Van. Art Gal. a two-man travelling show Gaucher/Pratt (1977)
Mira Godard Gal. Tor., Mtl. (1978)
Mira Godard Gal., Tor. (1980)
Memorial Univ., St. John's, Nfld. (1980) and others.

Awards and Accomplishments

For his achievements Pratt has received the following honours:
A.R.C.A. (1965)
Hon. D. Litt., Mount Allison Univ., N.B. (1972)
Hon. D. Litt., Memorial Univ., Nfld. (1972)
Order of Canada (1973).

He has appeared as guest speaker on numerous occasions in centres across Canada.
He is represented in the following collections: London Public Library & Art Museum, Ont.; York University, Tor.; Art. Gal. Ontario, Tor.; Dept. External Affairs, Ottawa and elsewhere; Canada Council, Ott.; National Gallery of Canada, Ott.; C.I.L., Mtl.; P.F. Bronfmann, Mtl.; Mount Allison Univ., Sackville, N.B.; Univ., of Moncton, N.B.; Dalhousie Univ., Halifax, N.S.; New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, N.B.; Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fred., N.B.; Memorial Univ., St. John's, Nfld.; Confederation Art Gallery, Charlottetown, P.E.I.; Northern & Central Gas and others. Pratt is also represented in private collections in Canada and abroad.

-Colin S. Macdonald, Dictionary of Canadian Artists

Other Information

Category: Print Making


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