Painting by Newfoundland painter Christopher Pratt, depicting a station waiting room in the artist's abstract realist style.

Through the examination of architectural images and texts, it is possible to expand understanding of heritage and culture, and of processes of change such as modernisation and urbanisation. The built landscape is a mix of past and present, and both formal and informal architectures. Christopher Pratt's Station is an example of the artistic expression of a modern element of everyday or vernacular architectures in urban and small town settings.

Christopher Pratt
1972
CAG 72.10
© 2006, Confederation Centre Art Gallery. All Rights Reserved.


About the artist

Born in St. John's, Newfoundland, Pratt studied engineering at Memorial University and painted as a hobby, then moved to Mount Allison to pursue general arts, finally switching to Fine Arts there. He returned to St. John's in 1953 to paint full-time and married artist Mary Pratt. He continued his studies at the Glasgow School of Art and later returned to Mount Allison to study with Alex Colville, the most prominent painter of the region and associated with the tradition of high realism. He began exhibiting in 1965 and was soon recognized as one of the classicists in contemporary Canadian art. During the mid-1960s he returned to Newfoundland where he ran the Art Gallery at Memorial University. Pratt is recognized as one of Canada's leading artists.

Inspired by, and firmly rooted in the Newfoundland landscape and architecture, Pratt uses as starting points commonplace sites and landscapes, translating them into a style of heightened realism. Emerging from ideas and emotions that transcend reality, his images have emerged as powerful icons of the region. And yet his images of the Atlantic landscape and outport Newfoundland and Read More

About the artist

Born in St. John's, Newfoundland, Pratt studied engineering at Memorial University and painted as a hobby, then moved to Mount Allison to pursue general arts, finally switching to Fine Arts there. He returned to St. John's in 1953 to paint full-time and married artist Mary Pratt. He continued his studies at the Glasgow School of Art and later returned to Mount Allison to study with Alex Colville, the most prominent painter of the region and associated with the tradition of high realism. He began exhibiting in 1965 and was soon recognized as one of the classicists in contemporary Canadian art. During the mid-1960s he returned to Newfoundland where he ran the Art Gallery at Memorial University. Pratt is recognized as one of Canada's leading artists.

Inspired by, and firmly rooted in the Newfoundland landscape and architecture, Pratt uses as starting points commonplace sites and landscapes, translating them into a style of heightened realism. Emerging from ideas and emotions that transcend reality, his images have emerged as powerful icons of the region. And yet his images of the Atlantic landscape and outport Newfoundland and Labrador not only identify and represent a particular moment and place within the Canadian landscape, but also transcend the local, as they are highly symbolic. His work displays a genuine interest in the people and places of small towns, and universal experiences of time and space.


About the work

The source of Pratt's conceptual approach has been linked to the Precisionist tradition in American art and described in a number of ways: surrealism, hyper-realism, and abstraction, among others. In Station, his approach to the subject matter, a highly crafted representation of a station waiting room, shows a preoccupation with purely formal design problems and the geometry of the image. The diptych is a good example of Pratt's realism and typical subject matter. With its bare institutional walls and stark nature, the work exhibits a feeling of loneliness, alienation and inner thought. His reliance on memory often makes his images non-specific, as his various titles suggest: Station, Institution, Cottage, Big Boat. Although the particular place may be important, Pratt may change details to suit the design and atmosphere of the painting or print. The colours are muted, pale and clinical. He uses shallow space rather than deep space and clear symmetrical geometry to underline their objectness. The image of the real object has become so abstracted from time and place and devoid of identifying detail. Pratt's works rarely, if ever, have signs or indications of wear or decay in them. The everyday world is simplified and meticulously organized, yet still indicates the artist's ability to recreate, or recall, emotional reactions, through images.



© 2006, Confederation Centre Art Gallery. All Rights Reserved.

photograph from the series by Thaddeus Holownia depicting the vernacular architecture of Irving gas stations, Sackville, NB

Images such as that of Thaddeus Holownia's photographs of rural gas stations in the Atlantic region identify built structures we sometimes overlook in day to day experience, an indication of how economics and development can unexpectedly lead to a local vernacular, modern architecture. Create a map of your town or city, identifying what you feel are the key built structures, formal and informal, from churches to gas stations.

Thaddeus Holownia, Irving Architectural Landscapes 1978-1999, Sackville, New Brunswick
1995
CAG 2005.4.35
© Thaddeus Holownia. Collection of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery.


Like art, literary passages can be extremely evocative suggestions of built landscapes. Using this passage by writer Robertson Davies from Leaves of Malice, a trilogy that revolves around the residents of the imaginary town of Salterton, Ontario, or by drawing upon another poetic or fictional description, create an image or locate existing images or artwork that you think suggests the landscape described

Research a range of architectural styles. Identify the styles of five buildings in your community or in cities you have visited. Write a narrative or poem that is set in this community or city that incorporates details of the built landscape to add a local sense of place.


Chambers is the only possible word to describe the place in which this old–established firm discharged their affairs. Offices they were not, for an office suggests a place touched by modern order and efficiency. Nor were they simply rooms, for the Read More

Like art, literary passages can be extremely evocative suggestions of built landscapes. Using this passage by writer Robertson Davies from Leaves of Malice, a trilogy that revolves around the residents of the imaginary town of Salterton, Ontario, or by drawing upon another poetic or fictional description, create an image or locate existing images or artwork that you think suggests the landscape described

Research a range of architectural styles. Identify the styles of five buildings in your community or in cities you have visited. Write a narrative or poem that is set in this community or city that incorporates details of the built landscape to add a local sense of place.


Chambers is the only possible word to describe the place in which this old–established firm discharged their affairs. Offices they were not, for an office suggests a place touched by modern order and efficiency. Nor were they simply rooms, for they had lofty architectural pretensions, and enclosed a dim light and a nineteenth century frowst which distinguished them from common apartments…. It is in such houses as these that the characters in the plays of Ibsen had their being; it was in this light, and against these backgrounds of stained wood and etched glass that the people of Tchekov talked away their lives. And, if the Canadian building be old enough, the perceptive eye may see faint ghosts from Pushkin and Lermontov moving through the halls. This is the architecture of a Northern people, upon which the comfort of England and the luxury of the United States have fallen short of their full effect.




Robertson Davies, Leaven of Malice, Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1954, 68.

© 2006, Confederation Centre Art Gallery. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

These materials are intended to be used at the secondary level to address art education, language arts, and social studies curriculum outcomes. Students will (be expected to):

Social Studies

  • apply concepts associated with time, continuity, and change
  • research and describe historical events and ideas from different perspectives
  • identify, evaluate, and use appropriate primary and secondary sources to learn and communicate about the past
  • use spatial concepts and models to interpret and make decisions about the organization, distribution, and interaction of physical and human phenomena

Language Arts

  • ask discriminating questions to acquire, interpret, analyze, and evaluate ideas and information
  • generate questions as a guide to research
  • examine relationships between different forms of expression

Visual Arts

  • derive images through the study of historical images from their own and other's cultures
  • investigate visual communication systems as integral to everyday life

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