Nina Madden meets painter Katie Pratt and uncovers the benefits of winning the Jerwood Painting Prize.
Katie Pratt studied painting at Winchester School of Art. After graduating with an MA from the Royal College of Art (RCA) she was included in the New Contemporaries (1999). She joined the Houldsworth Gallery in Cork Street in 2001, and that year won the Jerwood Painting Prize. Exhibitions include 'Pell mell' at Houldsworth and 'Approaching Content' at the Crafts Council both in London. She has a show in preparation at Foundation Contemporaine, Sierra, Switzerland and a residency in Los Angeles in the summer of 2003.
Winning the Jerwood Painting Prize provided a momentary relief from financial pressures. As she received more teaching offers, she could resign from her part-time job in administration that she had since college. She was also offered an AHRB Research fellowship at Southampton University in Winchester, which she believes would not have happened had she not won the prize.
Pratt begins her large abstract paintings with a random act of paint. She then proceeds by creating a system of regulatory rules around these initial marks:
"I use observations as a starting point and as a structure for the subject matter. I look carefully for anything that is regular and I noticed these downward strokes [she points to a canvas behind me] so at the moment I am putting a pale green square line wherever there is a 180 degree vertical. Whenever there is one directly opposite it I will put a horizontal line."
The system of rules that Pratt develops serve to mediate and regulate the image. There is a reciprocal relationship between the chaotic and the ordered and the artist is interested in the decision-making process and relation between intuition and concept. Pratt points out:
"The systems masquerade as being conclusive, but if a system has run its course or there is still some visual unrest, I can always make another system. If I want something to grow over the left corner of the painting I try to work out how to develop a system that will make it go in that direction. I set it up so that it will grow and also so that it can be stopped. In a sense I systematise my intuition and channel it through these systems."
Pratt's starting point of a random act of paint sets up the overall structure. When in place, it can not be changed. She has talked about how to home in on a problem and resolve it:
"One way of seeing it is to claim the problem and then instead of it being a problem you get the occurrence of a problem which can be quite regular and a pattern emerges through the back door."
In the catalogue for 'Pell mell' (mentioned previously) Sally O'Reilly wrote that her work: "destroys the possibility of pure formalism and sidelines the Expressionists call for raw communication through gesture". How does she view her work in relation to these historical categories of painting.
"It is about critiquing traditional readings of abstract painting. People tend to read throwing of paint as an extreme expression, but actually it is just a gesture, as the dotted line is just a gesture. In my work the controlled dotted line is probably more expressive. You can't make something so minimal that there is no sense of individuality in it. People were trying to do that in the 1960s but it didn't really work. I use the systems as a strategy for making something that I couldn't invent. I do not know what it will look like until it is finished, but then of course you may end up with something that looks terrible."
What role does beauty play in her work?
"I certainly don't strive for beauty. It is kind of a by-product. If I set out to make beautiful things I couldn't do it. I make localised colour decisions that can be perceived as beautiful but I can't do more than that."
Katie Pratt lives and works in London. She is represented by Kontainer Gallery, Los Angeles. She completed an AHRC Research Fellowship at Southampton University in 2005 and is Senior Lecturer in Painting at Wimbledon College of Art. Recent exhibitions include Patrick Heron, Jonathan Lasker, Katie Pratt which was at the John Hansard Gallery Southampton, earlier this year. She was included in Landscape Confection, curated by Helen Molesworth at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus Ohio and touring to the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas and the Orange County Museum, Newport Beach, California. Since 2003, her work has also been exhibited in Reykjavik, Venice, Los Angeles and London. She will be participating in Drawing at Artspace, Southwell in September 2006 and will be showing new work at Kontainer Gallery in 2007.
Nina Madden is a writer, critic and arts manager based in London.
First published: a-n.co.uk April 2003.
Updated September 2006.
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