In 2017, Marria Pratts created a painting directly on a chocolate calendar. You know, one of those with the little paper doors outlined by perforations behind which sit pieces of chocolate shaped like festive things, vastly more special than the ergonomic quadrangle bars with which we are familiar the rest of the year. The chocolate is sized especially for alignment within the paper door, for this aperture – and therefore presentation and framing – is of non-negligible importance.
The veiled surprise is also integral to the logic of the Ghost, and somewhere between apparition and appearance, this peripatetic haunt recurs throughout Pratts’ work. Fascination dawns with the spark of a mystery, such that you begin reading a pattern of movement in the paint, or searching for the sugared meanings of a ‘U’ that initially seemed brazen with cheap sentiment but otherwise not noteworthy. These are the types of detail that are unforgettable about childhood, and childhood is strange, for sure.
The alterity of children means they appreciate how a landscape can exist in absence of representation or the colour green; how fire can be an expressive field of action engaging twin modes of destruction and desire; how a kernel of marks knotted like a starburst is not simply a tenet of ‘action painting’, but part of a lexicon of cat-and-mouse skirmishes and hair-raising frission. Children do not cite Jean Dubuffet’s interest in the street graffiti of the common man, the cartoonish physics of a Philip Guston pink, nor Joan Miró’s flighty scrawlings on the walls of his former studio in Mallorca, Spain. We may leave that interpretation of Pratts to the art historian’s so-called authority.
Dare I say instead: that one’s attitude towards the chocolate calendar is suggestive of one’s approach to life and art. There are those that perform obeisance to the calendar as if it is sacred scripture genetically coded – one highly anticipated piece per day. And then there are those who cannibalize the experience, opening all the doors at once and at random without decorum, who come out of this decadence dizzied, and with a mild stomach-ache. Like the numbers spelt out with a sort of neurotic indecision that swirl around the face of Pratts’ Soul Care Beauty clock, they know that time lives by its own rules, and so they do.
It is easy to be brief when you have a handful of metaphors, and they are less prone to melting in hot palms than little pieces of chocolate. But ‘paintings keep their secrets’, as Pratts would say. And perhaps the flailing of limbs to music first thing in the morning is as close as we’ll get to a ‘process’, when impressions are Fresh 1, 2, 3, and the air is just warming. The same may be said of a stillness which describes the ‘fermentation’ of a certain painting, whose maker, in consultation with a talking chair or wisps of phantoms, transmits the feeble elegance of the world through ephemeral drawings in light and loose skeins of paint. For only the artist can hold court with the walls of their confinement, shuttered off from both the elation and misery that occasionally comes to kneel at the paper door. And that suspension is itself a form of magic.
The studio is a room that is but a temporary status, one held together by the exquisite workings of a creative, centrifugal force. There will arrive a moment when she says to herself, ‘when it’s good, it’s good’, and nothing more need be added, nothing more need be said to the no-one-else in the room.
Elaine M.L. Tam