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 Christopher Pratt  (1935 - )

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Lived/Active: Newfoundland and Labrador / Canada      Known for: super real interiors and figure painting, graphics

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Christopher Pratt is a painter, printmaker, graphic artist and poet.  He was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland (1) and, other than for schooling, has lived on the island within 75 miles of St. John’s all his life.  He currently (2009) lives in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, Canada.
 
His mediums are oil, silkscreen, lithograph, woodcut, linocut, serigraph, graphite, ink, watercolour and mixed mediums.  His subjects include structures, interiors, waterscapes, boats, figures, nudes, genre, allegory, stamps and social commentary.  His style is described as High Realism (2).  His works are precise (3) formalist studies identified by "geometric simplicity and clear tonalities" (4).  They are usually flat frontal views of austere, pristine environments (there are usually no signs of wear or usage on the buildings, the furniture or any of the elements that inhabit them).  His stated influences include Alex Colville, Lawren Phillips Harris and Edward Hopper (see all in AskART).

Quotes:
 “Art is not objectivity, …The actual subject can be far too overwhelming.  The last place I want to see when I’m doing a painting is the place that inspired it.” – Christopher Pratt (1974).  And “With respect to the origins of my work I think that it’s fair for me to say that my work is essentially autobiographical and I say that because I’ve never really been preoccupied with the history of art or art about art and my work essentially comes from my environment but you have to take a very broad view of the term environment.  It’s not just obviously my geographical environment although that’s very important it’s also the social environment, the family environment of my childhood, memories that go back to there…and experiences that followed.  It’s also the environment of things that I have read and encountered subsequently. But the bottom line really is that my work is the response to my life.” – Christopher Pratt (2004).

He began his post secondary education at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick (1953 -1955) where he studied under Alex Colville (5) and Lawren P. Harris; he left Mount Allison, for two years, to study drawing under Jessie Alexandra Dick (see AskART), at the Glasgow School of Art, Scotland (1957-1959); and returned to Mount Allison to complete his bachelor of fine arts degree (1959 - 1961).  His teaching career consisted of a few years at Memorial University, St. John’s Newfoundland (1961-1963) where he taught extension courses and was the curator of the university art gallery.  He has been a fulltime painter and printmaker since then.(6)
 
In 1965 he became an associate of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and a member of the Canadian Society of Graphic Art.
 
In addition to exhibiting with the above organizations he has also been included in four Canadian Biennials at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1961, 1963, 1965, 1968); and group exhibitions at Museum London, Ontario (1961, 1966); at the  Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1962, 1966, 1975, 1977); at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1965); at the National Gallery of Canada (1966); at Expo 67, Montreal (1967); at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, Ontario (1968); at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Ontario; at Memorial University, St John’s, (1971, 1973, 1975, 1982); at the Vancouver Art Gallery, B.C. (1971, 1977); at Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris, France (1973); at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, N.B. (1974, 1975, 1976); at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C. (1974); at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax (1975, 1977, 1983); at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (1976, 1977); at the Art Gallery of Edmonton (1976, 1978); at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario (1977); at the Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Alberta (1980); at the Mendel Art Gallery Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (1980); and at the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador, St John’s (1995, 1999).  
 
The public venues for his solo exhibitions include the Memorial University Art Gallery (1965, 1970, 1972, 1980, 1985, 1992) the Vancouver Art Gallery, B.C. (1970, 1985); the Edmonton Art Gallery  (1970, 1992); the Art Gallery of Ontario (1985); and the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador (1996, 1999). The most recent touring solo exhibitions have been  “Christopher Pratt: Places I’ve Been” at the National Gallery of Canada and the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Ontario (2003 - 2005); and “Christopher Pratt” at the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery (St John’s, Newfoundland) and the Winnipeg Art Galley (2005 -2007).
 
Since the mid 1970s he has also been in numerous exhibitions at the Marlborough Godard Gallery (Montreal, Toronto, New York) and the Mira Godard Gallery (Toronto).
 
His works are in many private and corporate collections. They are also in many public collections including the Art Gallery of Hamilton; the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia; the Art Gallery of Ontario; the Beaverbrook Art Gallery; Memorial University; the Montreal Museum of Modern Art; The Vancouver Art Gallery; the York University Collection (Toronto), Museum London; the Confederation Art Gallery (Charlottetown, P.E.I.); the Art Gallery of Hamilton; the New Brunswick Museum (Saint John, N.B.); Simon Fraser University (B.C.) and many more. The National Gallery of Canada has 56 Christopher Pratt works in its collection.  

His numerous honours and awards include the very highest Canadian honour, the Order of Canada (CC) in 1983 (6), which recognizes "a lifetime of outstanding achievement and merit of the highest degree, especially in service to Canada or to humanity at large".  He also has three honorary doctorates; and has served on many prestigious committees and councils, including the federal government's Stamp Design Advisory Committee (1972-1975) and the Board of the Canada Council for the Arts (1975 - 1981). In 1980, he designed the Provincial Flag of Newfoundland and Labrador.
 
He and his work are discussed in most books about Canadian art history and modern art in Canada. There are also five monographs “Christopher Pratt” (1982) by David P. Silcox and Merike  Weiler; “The Prints of Christopher Pratt: 1958 -1991” (1991), by Jay Scott and Christopher Pratt; “Christopher Pratt: Personal Reflections on a Life in Art” (1995), by Christopher Pratt and David P. Silcox; “Christopher Pratt All My Own Work” (2005), by Christopher Pratt and Josee Drouin Brisebois; and “Ordinary Things” (2009) by Christopher Pratt. For a recent example of his poetry there is “A Painters Poems” (2005).
 
 
Footnotes:
 
(1) At the time Newfoundland was a Dominion of the United Kingdom.  It joined Canada in 1949.  According to Pratt, its independence from Canada and closer relationship with the U.S.A. and Britain allowed him more exposure to the art of those countries, through their magazines and books, than he would have had if he had lived in Canada.  Interestingly, Jack Bush (see AskART) echoed the same sentiments from a different perspective.  He was born in Toronto, Canada and said in a 1975 televised interview, that only after he was a mature artist did he realize that living in Canada had restricted his media access to the art of the rest of the world.
 
(2) According to Paul Duval in his book High Realism in Canada (see Book references) its essential qualities are: “objectivity of vision, sharpness of definition, precision of technique, accuracy of detail and excellence of craftsmanship.”
 
(3) So precise he produces only about 3 paintings a year.
 
(4) Words taken from the citation dated October 5, 1983 announcing his investiture as a Companion of the Order of Canada.The complete citation reads: "In the ten years since his appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada he has advanced his art still further, to the point where its geometric simplicity and clear tonalities have not only become the classic expression of Newfoundland and Atlantic Canada but achieved a degree of poetic insight and a quality of universality which are widely esteemed in Canada and abroad."
 
(5) "At Mount Allison, 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.” – Christopher Pratt.
 
(6) His wife since 1957 is the distinguished artist Mary Frances Pratt CC, DFA, LL.D.(see AskART) with whom he travelled to Scotland.  They graduated together from Mount Allison.
 
(7) He was elevated from the Order of Canada (OC) which he received in 1973. The rules are that there cannot be more than 165 living Companions of the Order of Canada (CC) at any one time, the Pratts account for two.
 

Prepared  and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke

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