By: Nick Travis
The Marriage of Mary and Christopher Pratt: The unauthorized biography of Newfoundland & Labrador’s most famous artist couple and the rivalry that drove them
Carol Bishop-Gwyn always had a knack for the role of biographer. Her first book, a biography of National Ballet of Canada founder Celia Franca, was named one of the top 100 books of the year by The Globe and Mail.
Now this Toronto-born author is examining one of Canada’s most well known artist couples – Newfoundland’s own Christopher and Mary Pratt. Anyone not familiar with the Pratt’s will at least recognize Christopher’s work, as he is the designer of the flag of Newfoundland and Labrador.
In this unauthorized biography, Bishop-Gwyn explores the rivalry that guided these two local artists throughout both their careers and marriage, as well as how the end of their relationship affected their art.
Bishop-Gwyn and her husband, Canadian author Richard Gwyn, would often visit the Pratts during their visits to their vacation home in Eastport, which inspired a basis for this novel.
‘Warts & all’ biography
“I used to be a fly on the wall…” said Bishop-Gwyn. “I just became fascinated by both of them, but confused because they came across in the media as a married couple that just lived separately, but it just didn’t seem the case.”
After giving the Pratts a copy of her biography on Celia Franca, she asked them if she could write a biography on them. Although the content of the book itself is unauthorized, both the Pratts answered all the questions asked off them. The book, as Bishop-Gwyn tells it, is a “warts and all” type of biography.
“It was a difficult book to write,” said Bishop-Gwyn. “I was trying to be as sensitive as I could to the four Pratt children, and of course I upset them because I do tell a very honest story.”
The story starts at the beginning, and ends at the death of Mary Pratt. It explores the difficulties of being a creative couple, as well as Mary Pratt’s struggle of wanting to be both a renowned artist and a mother while simultaneously living in the shadow of Christopher’s career. It also explores the evolution of Mary’s art after their split.
“After the sort of split in their relationship, her paintings are angry,” said Bishop-Gwyn. “They’re really angry and they’re beautiful.”
The book, according to Bishop-Gwyn, touched on a lot of topics she found difficult to write. From affairs, to their very different world views, the Pratts seemed to be complete opposites in many ways. And besides being so different from one another, they were mavericks in the mainstream art community at the time for their art styles.
“What’s very interesting is that both of them were painting in a style that was really not accepted in Toronto, which was this sort of epicentre of culture,” said Bishop-Gwyn.
“The 1960s and ‘70s was all abstract expressionism. And here’s Christopher doing these very, well… art historians call them abstractions, but they’re scenes. That’s what he was famous for –just Newfoundland scenes, but in a very linear way. Mary got into photorealism, which her parents thought was cheating, because you copy from a photograph.”
From the nitty gritty details of their tumultuous relationship, to fantastic explanations of the art they created – Art and Rivalry is one of the most in-depth looks into the lives of Newfoundland’s most famous artist couples, as well as the driving factors behind some of their best work.
Art and Rivalry can be found through Amazon, Chapters or through many independent book stores.