Curious George Goes To Morocco

Arts & Culture

Pictured: Merchant - Blue City by George Pratt. Photo by Phil Lederer.

Travel without a passport at Ringling College of Art and Design, where the latest exhibition from American painter and illustrator George Pratt catalogues the artist’s two-month odyssey through the sands and cities of Morocco and the Sahara. From old city markets and the Atlas Mountains to Bedouin camps and the famous Blue City, Pratt captures it all in striking color through near 100 ink sketchings, oil paintings, watercolors, photographs and more, bespeaking an artist still inspired and still exploring, all those years later. Entitled George Pratt: Carnet de Voyage – Maroc, the exhibition runs through March 22 at the Selby Foundation Gallery.

“I just wanted to immerse myself in the experience and whatever was going to happen, was going to happen,” says Pratt of those eventful two months travelling through Morocco in 2016, following the footsteps of his heroes, Eugene Delacroix, Arthur Melville, and John Singer Sargent, all of whom found inspiration in the Kingdom of Morocco. He walked the markets of Marrakesh and the old walled medina in Fes; he traveled from the coastal city of Essaouira to the mountainside city of Chefchaouen, known as the “blue pearl of Morocco,” because all the buildings are painted a vibrant blue. “And I’m a blue junkie, man,” Pratt says. “It was unbelievable.” The more he explored, the more comfortable he became, eventually giving up his hotel room in Marrakesh and staying with a local shopkeep for a week or so, being shown “all the nooks and crannies'' of the city, much of which appears in Carnet de Voyage, in oil paintings of watersellers and jewelry makers, stall merchants and busy streets.

And when the man said he knew a driver who could take them 13 hours south to the Sahara Desert, where the Bedouin tribes were encamped, Pratt agreed to meet them outside the walls in two days’ time.

“We didn’t do the typical tourist stuff,” says Pratt. Living with the Bedouins for a week, he smoked hookah and drank tea with them, ate madfouna, a sort of Berber ”pizza” baked in the sand, and listened to the music by the campfires at night. He met a holy man and saw the women at work on the looms. “And we rode camels in the desert, climbed the dunes, and watched the sun set over the Sahara,” he says.

Through it all, Pratt was sketching and painting, doing quick studies during the day and drawing long into the night, filling his notebooks, one after the other, many of which are also on display in the exhibition. “It really opened a spigot,” Pratt says, and he’s spent the years since making so many watercolors and oil paintings from the experience that they couldn’t all fit in the show. “I’m exploring color more than I ever have,” he says, and it spills forth in both urban portraits painterly and bold, all slashing brushstrokes and slabs of paint, as well as delicate watercolor landscapes where pink sands meet blue skies in something like paradise.

“I absolutely did not plan this trip out,” Pratt says today with a chuckle. “But it turned into a journey.”

On display in the Selby Foundation Gallery at Ringling College, George Pratt: Carnet de Voyage – Maroc runs through March 22.

Pictured: Merchant - Blue City by George Pratt. Photo by Phil Lederer.

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