Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mary Pratt - Celebrating the Mundane

Miriam King via Timmins Press

It's March Break which means I'm off school for the week. Yay!  The weather continues on its relentless quest to mark this winter as the coldest, snowiest, baddest EVER!  Besides relaxing this holiday, I had a few things I wanted to do and one of them was to see the Mary Pratt art exhibit at the McMichael Art Gallery in Kleinberg, Ontario. 

Mary Pratt is a Canadian realist painter from the east coast.  She was born in New Brunswick, but has lived most of her life in Newfoundland.  In the early years she had to work her painting time around the demands of running a household and raising four children.  As a result she usually painted what was at hand - fruit, cooked roasts, cracked eggs, the dinner table, an unmade bed.  These scenes of domesticity are fleeting in life, but are captured permanently in Mary's paintings.

The Homing Beacon
While it made sense to paint the things of everyday life, it also was difficult to complete the painting while life moved on.  The dining table that Mary wanted to capture with the remains of a meal was needed the next day before the painting could be completed.  It wasn't until Mary gave herself permission to paint from slides that she was able to really capture the impermanent everyday scenes and the fleeting light that was so important in her paintings. The table scene in the painting below was the first time she painted from a slide and was a turning point in her career.

Not only does Mary Pratt find beauty and meaning in the everyday, but through her paintings she also captures light.  Her paintings seem to glow.  The most obvious example of this is her famous jelly jar paintings, but you can also see the reflecting light in the glassware, metal, and even foil, saran wrap, and plastic baggies that she paints.

Mary's paintings though, are hardly a saccharine depiction of the everyday with pretty lighting. She often has flaws in the objects - charred pieces on the meat or chips in the glass (like in the painting below) to show that life is not perfect and you take the beautiful with the broken.

I listened to an interesting interview with Mary Pratt on the McMichael website, filmed earlier this year (click here to listen to it). It is long, but well worth listening to as she talks about her life and art and influences. I picked out a couple of my favourite quotations as they really capture what her paintings are about:
I knew what I thought was beautiful and it was within the four walls of my mother's house.  The sort of jelly quivering within a dish as it was brought to the table. The roast - you can smell a roast - it means something good is going to happen.  

Our house was a happy house and the images that appeal to me come from that house that was full of pleasure and full of life ... Where everything wonderful seemed to happen and I couldn't think of a better way to paint than to try to paint the kind of discussion that went on in our house.

Everything is beautiful, but there are problems to be solved ... You couldn't have something wonderful unless there was difficulty involved. You couldn't make red currant jelly unless you worked at it for three days.

If you live in Southern Ontario, the Mary Pratt exhibit is well worth a visit and is on until April 27th so you can still catch it.  For the rest of the world, you will have to be satisfied with reading about her and seeing her paintings online and in books.  This website has a good collection of her work.

Seeing Mary Pratt's paintings has re-inspired me to find beauty in the everyday and to try and capture the fleeting beauty in the mundane items of life in my photographs and paintings.  And finally, you can read an interesting comparison between Mary Pratt's art and blogging and how both are about observing closely, curating our lives, and preserving the everyday (click here to read the post).


  1. WOW! I really love Mary's artwork. I love them all! And I love how she and I have the very same philosophy about what we paint. That's pretty much all I paint….the mundane. I would love to purchase a piece of her art! She works larger than I do, but if I ever get a large floor easel I'll paint large, too.

    Thanks so, so much for sharing Mary Pratt's art with us! She rocks out loud!!!


  2. Shows you there in beauty in everyday objects. Gorgeous.

  3. These are awesome paintings. I especially like the jelly jars and the cherries in the bowl. I also agree with this enjoyment of everyday objects. Today after but another snowfall, I saw the most beautiful red Cardinal at the feeder, and he looked magnificent against the white snow. Sometimes you just need to slow down enough to see what's there...

  4. What a fabulous art display - amazing paintings. Loved the post, I felt like I was right there.