The Bigger Picture

Joan Sullivan
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Ned Pratt's new large format exhibition explores the symmetry of landscape

"Ned Pratt, New Work" is an exhibition of landscape photos - but they are not entirely, or solely, about land.

The landscape is a main feature, often thick hefty wedges of ground, sea and sky, but the visual hub is usually a structure, a house or stage, that both gathers in the viewer's attention and works as an axis directing notice all around it. These pieces are about balance and poise, the elegance of a clean line and the refinement of weathered wood and winter mists. They are not flash shots of action or documents of place but designs of form and background that attracted a visual artist's concentration.

"Straight Shore Punt." - Ned Pratt Photo

"Ned Pratt, New Work" is an exhibition of landscape photos - but they are not entirely, or solely, about land.

The landscape is a main feature, often thick hefty wedges of ground, sea and sky, but the visual hub is usually a structure, a house or stage, that both gathers in the viewer's attention and works as an axis directing notice all around it. These pieces are about balance and poise, the elegance of a clean line and the refinement of weathered wood and winter mists. They are not flash shots of action or documents of place but designs of form and background that attracted a visual artist's concentration.

These are arrangements that have caught Ned Pratt's eye; the curve of a boat, the punch hole of gold moon in an indigo sky, the pentangle of shed against the white-on-white winter field and horizon. He works big. Most of the pieces here are 34.75 x 46.5 inches, even the smaller ones measure 20 x 20 (all are of pigment-based archival print on lilyard paper). The scale is important, taking a skiff or telephone pole and framing it, usually centreing it, in a manner that makes it a large focal point against graduations of tactile background and a clean colour spectrum.

The tonal scale is also a significant element, as the palette is not manipulated but simply presents the blues and greys, often very light, that are a given in the often overcast, often winter scenes. But every piece also has its colourant spotlight, which range in vibrancy, so that the red post in "Government Wharf, Straight Shore" is a keenly alluring siren, while the hue of "Pink Shed" just the slightest tinge, a crimson just this side of pearl.

The compositions are very simple configurations, of a shed in snow, or a pole against the water. There is almost always a horizontal division, often into two planes of sea and sky, or wharf and cloud that emerge as layers of evolving buff, cream and lilac.

Or sometimes the area is divided by thirds, as in "Front, Conception Bay 1, 2, and 3," where the ocean is topped with two belts of sky, one clouded, one pure. A work like "St. John's Harbour, Labrador #1" is an exception, with a torn upper corner of deep blue night sky and a rising full moon over a tilted wedge of mountain.

There is a lot of snow. In Pratt's lens it is white and clean and it covers and flattens but has its own ridges and pocks. Throughout, all the lines are very crisp.

The clapboard, the industrial wires or the line of evergreen treetops in "Towards the Labrador Coast" are all rendered with great clarity.

There are no people or animals in the photos, but most often there is something manmade in these landscapes: "New Fence, St. Bride's," "Miller Mechanical, Trinity Bay," "Greenhouse, Peter's River."

In one sense this springs them out of the landscape; they are still lifes. And in another sense, because of their dimension, positioning and observance, they are portraits.

"Ned Pratt, New Work" continues at the Christina Parker Gallery until Oct. 11.

Geographic location: Conception Bay, St. John's, Trinity Bay

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