solo show: mary pratt

Like many, my go-to image reference for the art of Canadian painter Mary Pratt, is her iconic painting, Jelly Shelf {1999}.


This image is so iconic in fact, that Canada Post issued a stamp with this image in 2007.

And the travelling retrospective of Mary Pratt’s work currently on exhibition at The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, uses the image in marketing the exhibition.

Mary Pratt’s painting, Jelly Shelf, illustrates many of Pratt’s known qualities: her ability to capture light and her talent for highlighting everyday objects, like jelly jars. But that is where my Mary Pratt knowledge ended, until this past week when my Mom and I took in the retrospective at The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Here are a few insights from the Mary Pratt retrospective that have stayed with me.

On the Still-Life: Having studied Art History, I have seen my fair share of still life artworks. There are still lifes. And then there are still lifes. Mary Pratt’s still life paintings are full of life. Her treatment of texture and surface are impressive. She solidly captures tinfoil to printed floral table clothes with ridiculous precision. But oh how she manages to convey an air of loneliness in many of her still life images.


MaryPratt-ChristmasTurkey MaryPratt-TwoPomegranatesinaGlass  MaryPratt-FishHeadinSteelSink MaryPratt-TroutinZiplockBagMaryPratt-BetweentheDarkandtheDaylight

On Nudity: I had never associated portraits with Mary Pratt. And certainly not nude figures. That is, until I saw Girl In Glitz. This beautiful portrait was not only skillful but tender and transfixing. I loved Pratt’s explanation of how she came to painting nude women.


“I really didn’t think that women should paint nudes. I thought that if you didn’t have an erotic reaction to a nude, you probably shouldn’t paint it, because wasn’t that what it was all about?…then, I began to think about it, and thought, “How ridiculous. If anybody has the right to paint the naked female, it’s another woman. It’s not a man at all.” And when I looked through the canon of naked women painted by men, there they were, these voluptuous beauties ready to say, “Well, climb aboard!” and I thought, “That’s not what women are like. We are not like that.” And so I changed my mind.” {Mary Pratt quote from exhibition wall text}


On Life: What impressed on me most, was the mashup of Pratt’s art practice and her being first and foremost a homemaker / mother. Mary Pratt’s art was an expression of the beauty she found in her everyday. She struggled to find the time to capture those moments. She insisted on adding flaws and imperfections to her “perfect moments”. She struggled with feelings of being a fraud because she uses a camera to capture those everyday moments. All the while she is wife of reputable Canadian artist Christopher Pratt and a full-time mother with little time for a social life.


Walking through this exhibition with my own mother, it was so refreshing to have Pratt’s own words and images express those items that I have often expressed to my own mother and that I believe many mothers feel: the desire to ‘do it all’, to never feel you are doing ‘it’ right, and feeling isolated.

I really enjoyed that this exhibition had so many means to delve into the art of Mary Pratt. Her work is approachable on its own. But with added video, audio and text support, the viewer gets a chance to meet the woman, the artist and get behind the still lifes.

The Mary Pratt exhibition was curated by Mireille Eagan and Caroline Stone (The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, St. John’s, NL) and Sarah Fillmore (the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia) and is on view at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia until February 25, 2015.


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