I’m just back from a few days in chilly St. John’s, Newfoundland, where I discovered fish and chips tastes even more delectable when doused in gravy, stood on Canada’s most easterly point—with a 19th-century lighthouse in the background—and fantasized about shacking up in one of the city’s many adorable, brightly colored homes overlooking the water for a few months to crank out a novel.
On this trip I also wandered through the Rooms, a modern, four-story museum that introduced me to a Canadian realist painter I can’t stop thinking about. Her name is Mary Pratt, and this New Brunswick-bred artist has been making enthralling oil paintings since the mid-1960s. Her subjects are mesmerizing not because of their overwhelming beauty, suggestive symbolism, or grandiose juxtapositions, but because of how lighting—sometimes flattering, sometimes eerie—transforms simplicity: a bed’s rumpled sheets, a jiggling Jello mold, a naked woman holding a powder puff.
Pratt, who is now nearly 80, reminded me that beauty is innate to even the most mundane of objects and settings. It’s there, waiting to reveal itself, if only we’d just take a look.
Pratt’s circa-1974 “Salmon on Saran.”