In her debut solo exhibition with Carl Kostyál gallery, London, multidisciplinary artist Marria Pratts brings a frenzied energy to Saville Row. Bubblegum pink spectes accompany Mickey Mouse-style cartoons in a wide-eyed haunting of the gallery’s 18th century walls. Like figures suspended in childhood, their scratched lines and dripping paint embody an almost uncontainable vigour. They are thoroughly emblematic of Pratts’ painting-outside-the-lines approach that lets the paintings emerge spontaneously, drawing her own lines only after the paint begins to dry.
It is an approach that retains a childlike sense of play – a radical kind of artistry in a practice dominated by intellectualism and emphatic formalities. If Pratts’ paintings adhere to the conventions of any style or technique, it is one of anti-formalism. As she said in an interview with Vogue Spain, when she paints she simply likes to “let it flow.” And in that flow she is not just guided by the brush. Her practice also spans drawing, sculpture, carpets, furniture and fanzines.
Perhaps this spontaneity is the freedom afforded a self-taught artist. Excepting a period studying graphic design at the Escola Massana, Barcelona, Pratts is not a formally trained artist. Her paintings then are an impressive indication of the confidence she has in her own hand. While she is of course guided by a host of influential artists, including Cy Twombly, whose line work is notably referenced in Pratts’ paintings, those influences inform an astute intuition which seems the leading force of her practice.
Though uninhibited, this intuitive approach does not produce completely arbitrary works. Motifs of ghosts, cartoons and clocks cohere across all her works. In this exhibition, entitled Some Wizards in Saville Row, on view through April 20th, she combines those motifs with inspiration drawn from her wanderings in the city. Like the urban landscape, the paintings are brash and frenetic, but there is a softer side to them that might be an ode to the city’s communities.
2 Friends in the Cherry Blossom invokes springtime hues and a light optimism characteristic of those first warmer April days. The two mouse figures seem like two friends laughing in a city park, rationing the first glint of summer sun, and willing the warmth it promises. On the cusp of summer’s heat but not yet spoilt by it, they relish the excuse just to chat together on blossom dotted grass, surrounded by the rest of city, content in the happiness of longer days and each other’s company.
Here Comes the Sun O’Clock is another standout. A fitting title in many ways, not least because Carl Kostyál gallery sits just along from the Beatles’ former Apple Corps studio. It too is distinctly reminiscent of springtime and its promise of summer lightness. Pratts seems even to caricature that lightness, splicing the titular clock with two beams of red neon, as if the sun itself glows through the canvas.
On one wall of the exhibition is a collage of drawings and early sketches of the finished paintings. They offer a partial glimpse into Pratts’ creative process, something she seems keen to emphasise given how wholly the painting process dictates her finished pieces. They are especially interesting documentary works of the hand of a natural artist and earn their wall space just in that documentation, without pretension or any complex narrative.
As much as this exhibition might be an engaging representation of springtime in the city, an exploration of the paradoxes of urban living or an ode to the waning optimism of childhood, it is above all a simple celebration of playful painting. Casting aside any grander narratives, Pratts’ exhibition then triumphs simply in the intuitive confidence of her brush. This guarantees her playful paintings radical space on the high street of London’s most well-bred gentlemen.
Marria Pratts (B. 1988) is a Barcelona based multidisciplinary artist. Her work has been shown in solo exhibitions at The ELM Foundation in New York, the Fundacion Joan Miró and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona. Her current exhibition, Some Wizards in Saville Row, is on view at Carl Kostyál gallery until 20 April 2024.