Questions are sometimes more important than the answers and sculptor Ralph Prata is fine with this, even when the questions arise again and again. "Where is this imagery from? What are your influences?" After twenty five years he still has no certain answers to these questions. He hasn't the slightest notion where his imagery comes from or why he makes the things he does. He is content to create and enjoy the mysteries that emerge.
Prata studied advertising and commercial art in college and began carving on the side, first using soapstone and alabaster. He segued to a mixture of concrete and aggregates, in part because it was so available. His father was a contractor and there was always plenty of cement around. The mixture also permits the fluid transitions of line and form that are his signature.
Prata works spontaneously, without sketches, responding to the music in his studio and the places it transports him. "I don't know what the end result will be and I don't know where it comes from. Sometimes it looks Inuit or Aztec...When I'm working, I'm in the moment. I'm not trying to tell a story. A lot of artists feel like they have to identify the meaning behind their work. For me, it may come afterwards when I'm titling my pieces, not while I'm carving, and even then..."
When he's carving, it's just Prata and the music of Steve Roach, which provides the soundtrack for his creative space. He occasionally listens to other kinds of music, but even after many years, it's Roach's sound that he prefers. It carries him to a place of deep intuition and calm, a place inhabited by the imagery he creates. He is such a big fan, in fact, that he has designed album covers for Roach using images of his own creations.
Prata works in a specific scale, one suited to his subjects and also the qualities of his aggregate. He carves while the material is "butter" soft and yielding. Most of his sculptures feature a human form, sometimes hands, face, or a figure, mildly abstracted and exaggerated. These are combined with other iconographic ones, like wheels, animals, spirals and the like. Combined, this universal imagery is what suggests the primitive traditions so many collectors identify.
At different times, Prata's sculptures evoke Inuit art or Aztec, as Prata suggests, and even Aboriginal, Oceanic, African or Minoan. Sometimes they bear traces of all of these. He, like so many esteemed modern artists, has taken those traditions and infused them with his own contemporary energy. This venerable practice has a long history of its own and is the essence of most Modern Art. A similar urge has inspired many artists throughout the Modern period, from Picasso and Henry Moore to Brancusi.
Prata was among the first artists to show work with Patina when the gallery opened in 1999 and has returned after a several year hiatus. "Neo primitive" marks his return officially and will feature fifteen new works from the artist. The exhibitions opens Friday, June 24, 2011 with a public reception from 5:00 until 7:30 pm.