Interview: Artist Mary Pratt

Mary Pratt is revered as one of Canada’s greatest realist painters, but it’s obvious in both her work and conversation that home is a key source of inspiration. The Newfoundland-based artist elevates scenes of domestic life; bathing a baby, making jelly, basting a turkey, into luscious, sensual works that convey a quiet, epic nature. “My only strength is in finding something where most people would find nothing,” she has said. The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, launches a retrospective of 60 of Pratt’s paintings completed over five decades, accompanied by her audio and written comments until April 27, 2014.

House & Home: Is there a period in your life, or a piece that best represents your work?

Mary Pratt: I suppose This is Donna is one of the best paintings, but also the pomegranate painting that you see early in the exhibition. It seems to almost drip with blood. I did it unconsciously really, I didn’t remember doing it or seeing it. I painted it when I divorced Christopher [Pratt]. And I didn’t want to do that. I just felt so badly about it, but the time had come. I had met someone else and I couldn’t have it every which way. It was hard for both of us, and that is probably the best painting in the show. The one I love most though is the baby in the bath [Child with Two Adults]. The baby is my first grandchild. She is going to get married at the McMichael in April after my show comes down.

H&H: What does your home in St. John’s, Newfoundland look like?

MP: My brother-in-law Philip Pratt designed the house and we built it in on half a lot. It’s a very tall house with four floors, and it’s black on the outside, with red trim. It’s full of light, and the ceilings are a little higher than 9 feet so you get a sense of openness and space. My studio is on the top floor. I just love it, it’s crazy house and looks like someplace a witch would live in!

I designed some things myself like the range hood; it’s designed to have exactly the same look as the Alessi kettle with the bird on it. I used reds and purples in the living room, partly because of the paintings I have on the walls. I have a tiny Henry Moore lithograph, three drawings by Alex Colville, one drawing by Christopher, and a print of my own grapes. My son Ned is a photographer and I have big photos of his, and two paintings by my daughter Barbara.

H&H: Is there something that you think every artist should have in their home?

MP: I love my garden. It was a huge space in back of house that was rubble. It has a rock stream with no water, so I planted alongside of that and on the perimeter of this long narrow garden there are rhododendrons, azaleas and serviceberries, I had a terrific Katsura that gets golden leaves on it in the fall and blue Icelandic poppies and irises. Exquisite. Lupins and bee balm grow easily in Newfoundland, you can’t easily grow lavender because of the acid soil but I grow sage and savory and that smells good when you brush against them. I can’t walk it in anymore but I can get my binoculars and look at the garden from the deck.

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