From April 4 to January 4, 2016, the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) presents Mary Pratt: “This little painting”, as part of its program Masterpiece in Focus. The central work in the exhibition is Mary Pratt’s 1972 painting Red Currant Jelly, which has long held pride of place in the collection of the Gallery. Irving Oil is the presenting sponsor of this exhibition co-organized with The Rooms, St. John’s, NL, and supported by Heffel Fine Art Auction House.
‘The exhibition highlights one of the most popular works of the Canadian collection. Mary Pratt has distinguished herself over a career of five decades as one of the most significant realist artists to emerge from the Atlantic provinces. Although the subject may look straightforward, the artist has a more elaborate planning process than one would assume, which this exhibition explores. We are so pleased to collaborate with our colleagues at The Rooms in St. John’s and are grateful to Irving Oil for making this exhibition possible,” said NGC Director and CEO, Marc Mayer.
“I have known Mary Pratt for many years,” said Arthur Irving, Chairman of Irving Oil. “She is a wonderful artist with strong roots in New Brunswick and Newfoundland. All of us at Irving Oil are very proud to be a presenting sponsor of this exhibition featuring the paintings of Mary Pratt. It is an excellent opportunity to highlight a great Atlantic Canadian artist on the national stage.”
Presenting Red Currant Jelly within the context of a selection of key early and more recent paintings, study materials and prints, the exhibition tells the story behind the work Pratt affectionately calls “this little painting.” Visitors to the exhibition will see how the artist developed her technique and approach to subject matter within her extraordinary oeuvre that stands as a defining example of realist painting, a style strongly associated with the Canada’s Atlantic provinces. The exhibition also features a short film interview with Pratt about Red Currant Jelly and its relationship to her work and technique, produced by Toronto filmmaker Mark Bennett.
“With my work, even the things that are ordinary are not ordinary, because I don’t believe that anything is ordinary. I think everything is complex and worthy of conjecture, and worthy of a look — worthy of a close look,” suggests Pratt whose exacting brush has been acclaimed for the manner in which her paintings bring due contemplation to everyday rituals and the themes they invoke: sacrifice, love and familial duty, and the inevitable and ever-fleeting passage of time.
A major component of this Masterpiece in Focus exhibition is the examination of Mary Pratt’s long-standing use of the camera to first capture, however inadequately, a moment charged with what she describes as “erotic” intensity. Red Current Jelly was one of the artists first mature works created after she began to use photography as the initial starting point for her paintings in 1969. It was also the first painting in which Pratt claims to have successfully painted light through the colour red: “a very difficult colour, because it has to do so much. It isn’t just a colour, you know. It’s an emotion, and it had to be clear. Now how do you make a clear red? How do you make a red that looks as if you can look through it? Well I didn’t know how, so I had to depend on photography to teach me — and it did, I think.” From jelly and salmon flesh, to the colour of a blanket draped over an unmade bed, saturated tones of red flow throughout the lush presentation of works in the exhibition, the largest compilation of paintings by Mary Pratt on view to date at the National Gallery of Canada.
About the artist
Mary Frances Pratt (née West) was born in Fredericton, NB in 1935. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Mount Allison University in 1961. Her first solo exhibition was held at the Memorial University Art Gallery in St. John’s in 1967. Since then, her paintings have been exhibited in most major galleries in Canada. Pratt’s works are featured in many public, corporate, and private collections, including those of the National Gallery of Canada, The Rooms (St. John’s, NL), the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Canada House in England. She holds nine honorary degrees, has served with non-profit boards, government committees, and cultural initiatives, and has been the subject of several books. In 1996, Pratt was named a Companion of the Order of Canada. In 1997, she was awarded the Canadian Molson Prize from the Canada Council. Mary Pratt lives and works in St. John’s, NL.
NGC Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, Jonathan Shaughnessy, and The Rooms Curator of Contemporary Art, Mireille Eagan are the curators of Mary Pratt: “This little painting”.
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