71 MARY PRATT, R.C.A. SWIMMING UP TO THE SUN oil on canvas signed and dated ‘98 24 ins x 36 ins; 61 cms x 91.4 cms
Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto Private Collection, Toronto $35,000–50,000
Mary Pratt (b.1935) attended school in a unique place. Mount Allison University in the 1950s and early 1960s was perhaps the only major art school anywhere that was dedicated solely to representational art. The principal instructors, Lawren P. Harris, Alex Colville and Ted Pulford were exemplary practitioners of realism. Commercial galleries of the region and The Beaverbrook collection were also skewed in favour of conventional academic rendering. So, during a period rife with aesthetic invention, experimentation and abstract explorations, New Brunswick was a complete anomaly, a place where it seemed perfectly natural that the foundation of art practice was founded upon recreating images borne from observation of existing forms. At Mount A., she met and married Christopher Pratt. Mary recounts that in her early stages she was most drawn to the ‘impressionistic’ touch of the cross-hatched textural application of Colville’s paintings. Christopher had established his own artistic voice, Mary was still trying to find her way. Mary was building her works by hand-drawn studies from nature. Her breakthrough occurred in 1969 when Christopher snapped for Mary a colour slide of a scene to act as an aide-mémoire for the fleeting light conditions of a desired painting subject. She projected the image and traced its outlines, thus unwittingly entering into a dialogue with the cadre of international artists referred to as photo-realists and chronicled by the 1970 Whitney Museum exhibition: TwentyTwo Realists. By the early 1970s photo-realism was a ubiquitous part of every university art department worldwide. But understanding how she might paint only solved half the riddle. There was still the question of what to paint. For Mary Pratt, the answer to that seemed to require the addition of visual complexity: multiple reflections, refractions, shadows, translucency and ‘difficult substances’ such as crinkled foil or saran wrap. Pratt managed to equate her domesticity to ‘womanhood’. Her images of women and domestic subjects were viewed as her attempt to establish selfhood amidst struggles (her marriage would end) and societal injustice towards women. What then is to be said about the intention or reading of this lot: Swimming Up to the Sun? Is the subject submerging or as the title implies emerging? The facial expression appears as determined, resolute. We are invited to form our own impressions on the subject’s internal dialogues. Mary Pratt was named Companion of the Order of Canada in 1997 and her works have been exhibited and collected by the nation’s most prestigious private and public collections.
Canadian Fine Art Auction