By Gina Malone
Artist Julius Pratt has managed to find a connection to art in every facet of his life from early childhood drawings to the paintings and clay pieces he creates today. He grew up the only child of an Episcopal priest and a piano teacher in Sewanee, TN. “I remember a significant influence: standing in my crib at night as a child and watching the gas heater’s beautiful, soft, blue flames and the glowing orange ceramic grid pattern,” he says. “I still like those colors.”
The landscape of the Cumberland Plateau with its cliffs, caves and woods helped fire his imagination. After high school he joined the army and was sent to Germany. “Europe was a great influence,” he says. “There were museums and galleries and a historical appreciation of art.”
Back home as an art major at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, he fell in love with painting. “Being in school in the mid-sixties was an amazing time,” he says. “I was influenced by the challenging directions art was taking.” He went on to earn a MFA in painting and design at Pratt Institute.
There followed a slew of art pursuits. “I taught public school for several years, taught private lessons and art groups. I painted motorcycles, designed and painted large theatrical sets, and designed and patented a hanging chair.” Even in flying his Piper Cub around East Tennessee, his artistic eye was on the landforms of the countryside below.
It was his wife Sukey, a ceramic artist, who convinced him to try his hand at clay by pointing out that he was spending a lot of time “going back and ‘adjusting’ already finished paintings. Why not work on something ‘small enough to finish?’” she asked.
Pratt’s process involves using a slab roller to produce a large flat piece of clay. “Using small, generally abstract drawings as suggestions and natural objects like seed pods, I draw into the soft clay, press shapes into it, and cut and form openings. As the clay dries and becomes stiff, I use scratching, sanding and carving to add texture and detail.” He then fires the clay and primes and paints it, using acrylics, watercolors, pastels, ink and colored pencils. He then adds collage to the pieces: dichroic glass, mirrors or the reflective hologram backing from CDs, all of which help to reflect colors that change with the angle of lighting.
“There’s a kind of aesthetic narrative where a work, among its many attributes, lies somewhere on a line from ‘it’s okay’ all the way up to where it ‘attains an essential truth,’” Pratt says. “These small pieces are more on the informal side of that line; there’s a kind of ‘clunkiness’ about them that I like. Yet I end up treating them with the same intensity as I do with large paintings.”
Pratt is always creating. “There are cold, unproductive times, but it’s great to be able to stir up the muse again to ecstatic self-expression,” he says. “What inspires me is that even when making a small piece, I like seeing the work grow from being an idea into something that has potential and consequence.”
Find Julius Pratt’s work at The Gallery at Flat Rock. To learn more, visit GalleryFlatRock.com.