Mary Pratt was a master of the mundane and that is indeed a compliment. She had the ability to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. This beautiful small exhibition at the Owens Art Gallery consist of works from its own collection (The West Collection), and as curated by the Owens’s Director Curator, Emily Falvey, illustrates that conclusion.

The exhibition centres around watercolours and drawings of food. All of them could have been completed in a single room—a kitchen—but through Pratt’s art that room becomes a wider world. I had the pleasure of sitting in her kitchen in Newfoundland many years ago watching her work and talking to her about why she chose her subject matter. It was the stuff of her life and it delighted her. This could be seen as a limitation, but it was not. She was able to see the world around her in a unique vision that speaks for itself.

The exhibition’s title, The Floating World, comes from the Japanese term ukiyo-e and refers to Japanese woodblock prints from early 18th to the mid-19th centuries. They generally reflect the transitory nature of life. The largest body of works in The Floating World are from a series of colour woodblock prints, Transformations (1993–2002), that Pratt did in collaboration with master printmaker Masato Arikushi, It took me a second look to realize the medium as they so closely resemble the watercolours that she so well known for. There are seven of the ten prints from the edition in the exhibition. They are all of fruits in simple settings such as Pears on a Green Glass Plate, 1998, or Mangos on a Brass Plate, 1995. Each print is a wonderful reflection on the transitory nature of life plus the craft of the shared involvement of the two artists.

Pears on a Green Glass Plate, Mary Pratt, 1998, colour woodblock print on paper, artist proof, 42.3 x 61 cm, Gift of Christopher Pratt. Photo: Roger Smith, 2010.

Mary Pratt’s art reminds us that very large issues can be reflected in a simple still life. Her work resembles that of Giorgio Morandi, an artist that she admired, whose mundane subject matter of pots and bottles also invoke meditation. She was, of course, quite capable of other subject matter and should not be pigeonholed into a single genre. What I gained from The Floating World was that I did not need to be hit over the head with a two-by-four to understand that life is a complex matter.

©Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB, Canada, 28 March 2019

Pheasant with Lace and Velvet, Mary Pratt, 1992, mixed media on paper, 161.3 x 119.4 cm, The West Collection, Gift of Mary Pratt. Photo: Roger Smith, 2010.