Nfld. & Labrador

Art and grieving: Painter Barbara Pratt honours mother Mary Pratt's life in new exhibit

The exhibition showcases the role cake plays in our society, from birth to death, says Barbara Pratt.

Exhibition showcases the role cake plays in our society, from birth to death, says Barbara Pratt

Barbara Pratt's newest collection is a homage to her late mother, Mary Pratt. (Submitted by Alison Butler)

There was no cake waiting for Barbara Pratt on her 56th birthday, something that until that point had been a tradition shared between her and her mother each year to mark the annual celebration of life. 

The warmth and love was missing for the first time.

Renowned artist Mary Pratt — her mother — died at 83 in August 2018. Mary made a career of painting hyper-realistic everyday scenes — including of baking — that resonated across the country and sent her to the top of the Canadian art world. 

Now, Barbara Pratt's newest exhibition, which began Saturday at the Emma Butler Gallery in St. John's, pays homage to her late mother. 

"I had an idea back in 2018 to paint a painting of the cake pans, that's in this exhibition, and I wasn't really thinking about it in a really significant kind of way," Pratt told CBC Radio's On The Go

"But after my mother died, in that same year, the image became more poignant for me and I started thinking about other possibilities for images. When my birthday came I realized there wouldn't be any birthday cake from my mom that year, for the first time ever, really, and that hit me pretty hard and fuelled my creativity."

Pratt picked up painting from her parents. She also picked up baking from her mother, something she says is taken seriously in her family — particularly with birthdays. 

This cake was designed by Maria Clarke of Petite Sweet in St. John's. Pratt painted it as part of her latest collection. (Submitted by the Emma Butler Gallery)

"It struck me that baking, and baking birthday cakes in particular, is essentially an act of love that you do for somebody else," said Pratt.

"I don't take baking birthday cakes lightly. I'm not going to bake a birthday cake for just anybody."

'It's just part of what we do'

Pratt said the idea to paint cakes was obvious to her after going through some old family slides, many of which featured cake.

She said everyone in the family was happy in those captured moments, but added cake itself plays a role in societal norms. 

"Cake in general has a larger picture in our culture. We have cake with many of our rituals and celebrations. Retirement, graduations, weddings, obviously, and even at funerals you bring baked goods," Pratt said.

"It's just part of what we do, and that's the way my mom approached art. It's the way I approach it as well. It's about representing what you know."

Barbara Pratt says painting cakes for her newest collection came to her after the realization that she would not be receiving another of her mother's. (Submitted by the Emma Butler Gallery)

Pratt's new works feature actual cakes designed by Maria Clarke of Petite Sweet in St. John's and some of her own. 

Eighteen of her paintings will be hung on the walls of the gallery from Sept. 19 to Oct. 10, and the memory of her mother and the paying of her tribute goes one step further. 

Many of the paintings were painted using Mary Pratt's brushes, and even some of her own canvases that she never had the opportunity to use, said Barbara Pratt. 

"I feel lucky, in that I have sort have been with her during the whole duration of creating work for this show," she said. 

"There were days when it was very emotional for me, but uplifting at the same time.… I don't know that it helped, but I did feel honoured by the ability to use her brushes, and her paint, and well an awful lot more of her supplies as well."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from On The Go

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