Making my way down to the Nicholas Metivier Gallery, the frenzy of life in Toronto is unavoidable, as the streetcar roars across King street and the onslaught of city traffic rushes by. Meanwhile just past the glass façade another world awaits. The space at the gallery is one that affords a welcome buffer between the chaos outside and the quiet stillness of Pratt’s photography. You begin by traversing two flights of stairs, both ascending and descending, to reach the fruit of Pratt’s labour. The first image of the show, “Tree Line,” is a bold, seemingly abstract landscape as the icy gray waters and haze of clouds of the composition are broken up by the dark jagged line of pine trees along the shore. The print is striking in the tension between the natural beauty and the inevitable danger and uninhabitable reality of such a place. Human life has been pushed out of the frame, the “Tree Line” is more accurately described as a fence-line, barricading the viewer from fully entering the scene.
Any discussion of Ned Pratt’s work inevitably returns to Newfoundland, his unambiguous muse and home. Born in Salmonier, a small community in St. Mary’s Bay, Pratt’s artistic oeuvre is dedicated to the landscapes of his home province. Meandering through this exhibition, it becomes clear the reverence that Pratt has ascribed to Newfoundland, as each photograph emanates the careful composition and forethought of an academically trained artist. In “Barren Cabin, Tin Roof,” there is an overwhelming sense that Pratt has searched meticulously to present us with a perspective that confounds the viewer. Here, the artist has chosen to close in on a familiar subject, a decaying tin roof against an endless blue sky. Initially, the print almost resembles a Hans Hofmann painting as the bright red of the corroded tin and the thick impasto of the blue roof paint artfully mask the subject matter.
The unapologetic theme of Pratt’s exhibition and ultimately his conception of Newfoundland, is most obviously captured in “Fog Horn Shelter,” as his lens focuses on the top half of a diminutive cabin overlooking the abyss of the Atlantic ocean. There is no subtlety in this image. Our presence here in this landscape is temporary in comparison to the power and magnitude of our natural world. Our reverence is rightfully demanded and deserved in Pratt’s exhibition.
Featured image: Ned Pratt, St. Philip’s Beach, (detail) 2016, chromogenic print, 33″ x 46.25″. Image courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery
*Exhibition information: April 28 – May 21, 2016, Nicholas Metivier Gallery, 451 King Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue – Sat, 10 am – 6 pm.