Christopher Pratt is one of Canada’s
best-known and most beloved painters.
His meticulous prints depict the stark
landscapes of his native Newfoundland
and explore the province’s ambivalent
relationship with modernity. His work is
synonymous with Newfoundland; in 1980,
he even designed the province’s new flag.
A Practical Degree
I took to painting, but it never occurred to me that I could pursue it professionally. I was going to be an engineer: my father was in the hardware business, my mother’s family was in construction, and as a child I spent my time with Tinkertoy and Meccano sets. I liked the look of bridges and structures. My marks in school suggested I had a certain aptitude, so I enrolled in the engineering program at Memorial University.
Though I ended up only taking one year of pre-engineering, two things I learned there still serve me to this day. First off, I learned the fundamentals of perspective. Secondly, I learned how to survey. The surveying we did was basic triangulation — no satellites, lasers, or anything like that — with a transit and a level. It not only gave me a sense of measurement and inspired me to see the environment in a new way but also provided me with a trade for summer employment. At that time, if you could run a level, you had no problem getting a job.
Unfortunately, I ended up failing a lot of my classes. I had to consider other options. One fall, a couple of buddies decided they were going off to Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. My mother always wanted me to be a doctor, so I used the pre-med program at Mount Allison as an excuse to go away with them.
I had no intention of enrolling in the school’s fine arts department, but I thought I could drop by every so often, stand on the side, and receive some instruction. By that point, I had my own watercolours to take along. When I arrived, I showed them to the professors in the department — including Lawren Harris and Alex Colville — and they were immediately enthusiastic. Lawren Harris even wrote my father, suggesting I switch from pre-med to fine arts.
After a year of pre-med, I couldn’t stop thinking about painting. The idea of being an artist was growing on me, but I was too scared to go all the way. Instead, I switched into a general arts program.
“Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started”, © 2008 by Alexander Herman, Paul Matthews and Andrew Feindel. Published by Dundurn Press, www.dundurn.com