BCD #25

Blind Contour Drawing #25 –
“Dishcloth on Line #3 ”
– Mary Pratt 1997

Mary Pratt grew up on one of the most well-regarded streets in Fredericton, New Brunswick. She was one of two daughters to a Harvard-educated provincial cabinet minister.

She was heavily influenced by her maternal grandmother, Edna McMurray, who was the co-founder of the first Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) chapter in New Brunswick. Pratt, like her grandmother, served her community on several boards and communities during her lifetime, especially with matters of the arts and education.

As a young woman, Pratt attended Mount Allison University, studying Fine Arts under Alex Colville, Ted Pulford, and Lawren P. Harris. It was Colville who influenced the development of her style and her subsequent move toward realism. Harris was less enthusiastic; when Pratt married the artist Christopher Pratt in her second year of university, Harris was quick to inform her that a marriage could only hold one artist — and she was not it.

Despite his forewarning, Pratt kept up with her practice even after they moved to Scotland so that her husband could attend the Glasgow School of Art. Over the next several years — in Scotland and after their return to Canada — the couple had four children.  Despite the limited time available, Pratt continued to paint. Frustrated by the busy obligations and limited terrain of motherhood, she eventually took inspiration from the domestic sphere, focussing on the ordinary things around her home in rural Newfoundland.  She began to experiment with the use of light, noticing the charged quality of ordinary objects when they were regarded from new perspectives.  Finding she couldn’t sketch quickly enough before the light changed, she started taking photographs of objects that caught her eye.  When the slides were returned months later, she would choose only those objects that seemed to carry what she called an “erotic charge.” Then, she would paint, using the photos that retained that special quality that she loved.

Although Pratt started to show her work in 1967, it was these portrayals of the mundane objects populating women’s domestic lives that brought her national recognition in the 1970s.

In 1996, Pratt was named Companion of the Order of Canada. In 1997, she was awarded the Molson Prize for visual artists from the Canada Council for the Arts. In 2013, she was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. She was also awarded nine honorary degrees from various universities throughout Canada. Pratt was also the first Atlantic woman to have a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada.

Pratt suffered severe near-sightedness, which is reflected in the focal depth of her paintings. She also found difficulty walking and using her hand by middle age because of Rheumatoid arthritis. She continued to paint until her late 70’s.

Her subject matter elevated the mundane scenes of domesticity. Pratt’s art was powerful and political. It was derived from what she called an erotic charge for the moment she captured and then painted.

Born: March 15, 1935, Fredericton, New Brunswick
Died: August 14, 2018, St. John’s, Newfoundland

BCD#24

 

Blind Contour Drawing #24 –
“I have spoken with this green person”
– Rachel Berman 2010

Once known as Susan King, Rachel Berman reclaimed her birth name as an adult after she successfully discovered the names and of her biological parents and her own birth story. She was born in New Orleans in 1946 and was raised by foster parents in Victoria B.C. She abandoned the foster system at an early age and lived a tough life.

She was a self taught artist and traveled and worked in the U.S., Ireland and in Canada, she eventually settled in Victoria B.C. where she grew up. She worked as a greeting card artist. Her quirky animal characters, Mooky McBeth and Vanessa Vanilla eventually became characters in children’s books. She was nominated for the Governor General’s award for English Language Children’s Literature-Illustration in 2009 and 2013.

Berman’s paintings were exhibited in many places but most frequently with The Ingram Gallery in Toronto. Her gallery paintings are hauntingly beautiful. She drew from her experiences in the streets of London, Dublin, New York, Toronto and downtown Vancouver. She never owned a camera but spent hours sketching in housekeeping rooms, worn hotel lobbies, cafes, and metro stations. The mysterious figures and hidden stories in her paintings are a reflection of the struggles and mysteries she lived through herself. She once said that her paintings were autobiographical, her search for herself.

Berman suffered from HIV and hid her illness from her loved ones for a long time. She was ashamed of her early drug addiction and lifestyle. However, she felt AIDS made her grateful: “It did give me time to think, not about what the disease has taken away from me but what it has given me, and for which I now am most grateful, for life is most generous … – I have to live today like it is the best day in the world — & I now have the wisdom to know that it is.”

She was known to deliver envelopes stuffed with drawings, philosophy, calligraphy, rambling love letters and poetry, usually by bicycle in the early hours of morning to friends, loved ones and even strangers. She was an apparition in an overcoat and described as a “quiet observer of life, a thinker and a humanist.”

Born: 1946, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Died: May 28, 2014, Victoria

Homage series to Canadian women artists

 

I’ve been passionate about art history for many years and always find myself paying particular notice to the women sprinkled within the texts. It is refreshing to find that recent works are more inclusive.

In the past year, I’ve created blind contour drawings of art by women as a means of studying their work and learning about their lives, careers and contributions. I’ve been sharing some of these on Instagram and here on my blog.

I’m embarrassed to admit that even though my passion for art history is strong, up until a few months ago, I knew very little about women in Canadian art history.

The drive to study and learn more has resulted in a new and challenging series for me, an homage to these amazing women. I’m captivated by their skill, their dedication and ultimately their enduring and often rebellious artwork. Looking back, I can see their remarkable contribution to my identity as a Canadian, particularity a Canadian woman.

In reverence to their struggles and their gifts, I’m working on a collection of works that I aspire to share in hopes of introducing them and their work to fellow Canadians.

BCD#5

Blind Contour Drawing #5 – a portion of “La Vie En Rose” Joan Mitchell 1979

Cezanne, Matisse and Van Gogh were Joan Mitchell’s gods and she is my goddess.

Mitchell’s abrupt mannerism led many to interpret her work as expressions of anger and violence.  However, Mitchell had a life long adoration of painting and was inspired by landscape, nature and poetry.  She felt that poetry was the art form most analogous to her own.

Mitchell was influenced by her mother who was a poet, writer and editor.  Her father was a successful doctor and often took her and her sister to museums.  She perused her love of art by attending the Art Institute of Chicago in 1944 to study painting.  After her studies, she moved to New York City where she was first introduced to the ideas the New York School, which was dominated by the Abstract Expressionists.  On a travelling fellowship from school, she left for Paris a year later.

Back in NY City by 1949, she quickly immersed in the local Abstract Expressionist scene. She gathered at the Cedar Street Tavern with other artists and poets and became friends with painters such as de Kooning and Kline. She was one of the few women artists asked to join the exclusive Artists’ Club in Greenwich Village.  In 1951, she was included in their seminal 9th Street: Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, curated by Leo Castelli.

The success of her first solo exhibition at The New Gallery in 1952 led to yearly exhibitions at the Stable Gallery. Mitchell’s early success in the 1950s was striking at a time when few women artists were recognized.

Mitchell had synesthesia which is a “neurological condition in which a person experiences “crossed” responses to stimuli. It occurs when stimulation of one sensory or pathway (i.e.hearing) leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (i.e. vision).”  She didn’t know she suffered from it and often thought she was crazy, to the point of being suicidal. Painting made life bearable and by the mid 1950’s she fully embraced the idea that the canvas was hers to express her emotions.

Her work became more confident and she developed the qualities that would continue to define her paintings.  Her use of colour, her hand done marks and the tension she created between bold and subtle elements.  She was a careful and slow painter even though her work often looks so spontaneous.

In 1959 she moved to France permanently which was a bold move considering New York’s prominence in the art scene.  She fell in love with a French Canadian painter, Jean-Paul Riopelle. They had a stormy yet artistic relationship for 24 years. Painting was how Mitchell confronted and dealt with the circumstances of her life.  She created the painting “La vie en rose” after Riopelle left, Rose had been her nickname from him.

She referred to herself as the “last Abstract Expressionist,” and she continued to create abstract paintings until her death in 1992.

Quote: She wanted to convey in her work “the feeling in a line of poetry which makes it different from a line of prose” and that as with lyrical poetry painting “is inseparable from the way it is said.”

 

Born: February 12, 1925 – Chicago, Illinois

Died: October 30, 1992 – Vetheuil, France