Formal Description on the Artwork “Woman Before Stove” by Christopher Pratt
The technical approach of Contemporary Realism accommodates a wide variety of styles and themes, as well as a variety of visual dynamics. Christopher Pratt’s painting “Woman Before Stove” is an example of Contemporary Realism painted in 1963 in oil on Masonite (77.5by62.1 cm canvas). The painting also indicates Pratt’s attraction and dedication to rural scenes: positing his work of this era as part of a more generalized out-migration of visual artists from urban to rural residences and work places.
That “Woman Before Stove” embodies social and political commentaries that may remain unseen at first glance is a hallmark of Pratt’s Contemporary Realist work which often “disguises” intricate symbolism and thematic resonance behind a streamlined and markedly simplified composition.
An indication of this duplicity in Pratt’s work is the fact that it is only occasionally regarded critically as having overt political thrust, and yet political issues underline “Woman before Stove” as well as other Contemporary Realist paintings by Pratt. The essential poignancy of Pratt’s Realist paintings, and of “Woman Before Stove, specifically,” derives from his nearly photographic (but decidedly expressionistic) eye, memory, and technique which by virtue of their prowess exert a powerful testimony to the changing landscapes (environmental and sociological) of Newfoundland and Labrador; a number of his works speak to the loss of traditional ways of life and profound cultural changes.
Because Pratt’s work partakes of deliberate realism, with strikingly photo-like precision as an often present though never overly commanding technique, value exists in separating the idiom of Contemporary realism from the close but inherently disparate mode of Photorealism.
“Woman Before Stove” by Christopher Pratt Page -2-Contemporary Realism presents a seemingly direct and realistic method of visual representation which, although based in realistic appraisals of objects and subjects, co-exists in harmony with abstract art due the shared modes of expressionism It is different from Photorealism which attempts a more technical and less symbolic articulation.
As mentioned above, Contemporary Realists form an assorted group, but they generally share a well-versed knowledge of Modern Art (including abstract expressionism) and make a choice to work expressively within a seemingly more traditional form. Along with Pratt, among the best-known Contemporary Realists are Bailey, Welliver and Pearlstein.
Pratt’s signature within the Contemporary Realist idiom (along with his aforementioned political and social commentaries) is the merging of detail so precise it can be described as photographic and a sense of muted and limited colours which exude a sense of formalism and solemnity, even in bucolic or pastorale settings.
Pratt first studied at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. During the summers, he returned to Newfoundland to work as a construction surveyor at the American Naval Base at Argentia. The training he received in precise measuring was applied to his paintings. From nineteen sixty-one to nineteen sixty-three when “Woman Before Stove” was painted, Pratt worked as a curator at the Memorial University Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador). . “Woman Before Stove” Pratt presents a vision of Newfoundland and urges the viewer to consider how simplicity (both of design and the lifestyle depicted) meshes with the modern world which rapidly transforms our images of both domesticity and classical beauty. The image while formally composed is strongly nostalgic.
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However, unlike a Romantic or Pre-Raphaelite or Impressionistic painting, Pratt’s “Woman Before Stove” presents a strangely ordered nostalgia: the composition’s simplicity standing for the certainty of the artist’s vision and for the sense of classical endurance. The painting has an idealized and classical quality. Pratt achieves this by concentrating on the abstract elements of design: flat surfaces, the “four-fold” symbolism of the represented objects: woman, towel, stove, and chair.
The paintings is precisely organized: nothing inessential remains and this controlled emptiness powers a haunting dreamlike quality to the otherwise strikingly realistic rendering.. This kind of merging of simplicity of technique and the withholding other painterly conventions such asa bright or busy pallette, or a strong active narrative line allows the domestically represented ordinary or conventional world to move toward and archetypal articulation.
Pratt’s techniques in “Woman Before Stove” instill an immensity in ordinariness. He consciously elevates the common, the anti-picturesque, although the painting still reveals an idealization of sorts for the simple, nostalgic order and design implicit in the painting’s execution. One important element in “Woman Before Stove” is light; darker currents threaten behind the pastel-like, though muted, shimmer of the painting’s initial revelations. The exact, mathematically arranged, highly stylized image in ‘Woman Before Stove,” then, should rather be considered as an attenuated vison of reality, one infused with political awareness and the colors of emotion from stark appraisal of a way of life that is threatened to a warm and reflective desire for the eternal and classical archetypes to endure.
Also reflected in Platt’s rigidly controlled technique is a theme of mechanistic menace, desolation, and loneliness. The empty chair, the vulnerable, nude-woman’s back, the white towel “Woman Before Stove” by Christopher Pratt Page -4- seem to imply a fatalism that, along with the panting’s idealized vision, produces a haunting tension . Pratt also employs a visual game by treating the painting as a painting, toying with presenting a three-dimensional subject (and a realist vision at that) as close to two-dimensions as is possible without verging into Surrealism.
Playing on the viewer’s likely tendency to be “caught up in” the more obvious realism aspects of “Woman Before Stove,” Platt encourages his image to attain a dream-like symbolic impact. As in a literal dream, ordinary realistically depicted items or objects are often beheld as rife with meaning and resonance beyond what is immediately evident in their mere appearance, Platt’s image in “Woman Before Stove” is articulated with the same layers of meaning and insinuation. Like an archetypal or dream-image, the composition divests its viewer of certainty until, layer by layer, the “realism” of the initial experience is sublimated beneath a wide array of psychological, political, and sociological resonances, based upon Platt’s unerring technique and compositional logic.
“Woman Before Stove” impacted me very much as I believe the artist intended: my first vision of the work was of a simple, realistically designed and articulated painting of a classical subject: a nude woman in a rustic or rural setting. I next received the painting’s emotional resonance of nostalgia seeing a muted cry for the “time that is passing” to remain; next, I began to realize that this was a political commentary on the sinister side of “progress’ seen here as that which robs of classical stature and simplicity of life. Finally, Ii began to experience the painting as I might an event or image in a dream of fantasy, one which exudes a numinous and eternal feeling of regret and hope co-mingling, and as such, “Woman Before Stove” attained a
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universality of expression which seemed to catapult the work far beyond it’s beginnings in my perspective as a merely realistic rendering of a time long passed.