There is something near spiritual about Ned Pratt’s new body of work currently on view at Christina Parker Gallery until June 11th.
The untitled exhibition featuring 360 degrees of striking horizons is a Formalist’s dream, each image containing its own expertly balanced world of line, shape, and colour. The familiar elements of landscape are there – water, earth, sky – yet these images are much more than that. They are about the act of looking, the passage of time, and a reverence for simplicity.
I was lucky to catch Ned the day before the show opened at the gallery. We talked about his new works on a variety of levels: the search for subject, his intuitive process, finding beauty and even humour in the mundane.
Like many of us, Ned seems to work well on deadline. But the pressure to satisfy that deadline first has to melt away as he drives through prospective landscapes. I was reminded of driving around as a kid and looking out the passenger window. I’d blur my vision so that trees became a swath a green, the pavement just grey, and a white continuous line.
Similarly, Pratt’s new works are moving away from traditional subjects and narratives. Water, earth and sky become formal elements that talk to one another. It’s a conversation about surface and balance rather than place (despite some of the titles giving away their locations).
Take Harbour Entrance for example, one of Pratt’s more experimental images. Here the artist waited until the sky was perfectly uniform, the waves not too choppy, to balance out a rough black barrier. It’s an everywhere and nowhere kind of photograph that makes you feel everything and nothing at the same time.
This kind of work is reminiscent of colour field painting from the late 60s and 70s (see Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Jack Bush for the reference here). Like Pratt, these artists created works that were worlds unto their own canvasses, focused moments of clarity, conversations between colours. If you’ve ever been moved to tears before an abstract painting from this era, you know what I’m talking about.
Similarly, Pratt’s new works are very very still. At times this stillness is meditative as in Fog Horn Shelter where the roof of a small structure stands in awe of a vast ocean. At other times this stillness is surprising, tricking your eye into thinking you’re looking at one thing, when upon closer inspection you’re not. You should go see this show for St. Philip’s Beach alone as an example of this.
Though there is little of the social world within these works, there are some lovely and surprising moments that bring a lightness to Pratt’s work. Looking around the gallery, these details distinguish him from other celebrated formalists here in Newfoundland.
It’s the fact that we may have just missed a party in Soccer Pitch, Garnish, Newfoundland or the possibility that a detail so innocuous as an electrical insulator can become a hero of an artwork that makes many of these works as delightful as they are insightful. This kind of simplicity with a twist of humour and highly satisfying formality makes it a must-see exhibition this spring.