Intuition as Guiding Light: Ralph Prata
Holding On by Ralph Prata
"Intuition is the essence of creativity,” said legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. “I make all my decisions from intuition. I throw a spear into the darkness. That is intuition. Then I must send an army into the darkness to find the spear. That is the intellect.”
For artist Ralph Prata, intuition is the channel he opens wide to receive guidance and vision as he creates multi-layered, carved concrete sculptures, uniquely assembled mixed-media three-dimensional pieces and brightly colored paintings.
A native of upstate New York, Prata and his wife have lived in Tucson first as seasonal visitors and now as permanent residents for the past five years. His work, both the sculptural pieces and the paintings, reflect a connection to a Universal Source. Meeting in their home is like stepping into a carefully curated, multicultural museum featuring high-end arts and craft from contemporary artists, as well as indigenous people from around the world. From “molas” created by women in the San Blas islands, through brightly colored yarn paintings of the Huichol people in the mountains of west coast Mexico, to deep, richly carved wooden masks from Africa, they have invited primordial forms and symbols into their lives and living spaces.
How did you become an artist? What brought you to this path?
When I was in high school, I enjoyed carving hard clay in my ceramic classes. This interest in carving hard clay continued into college, where I was training to be a commercial artist. Not interested in pursuing the commercial art field, I began carving soapstone and African wonder stone. During summer breaks throughout college, I worked in my father’s construction business where I was exposed to concrete. Finding that concrete was such a versatile material to work with, I started experimenting with different sands, cements and aggregate until I developed my own special concrete blocks to carve.
What were some of your early influences that encouraged you to pursue an art career?
In the early 1970s, my parents would take me to the American Craftsman Show in Rhinebeck, New York. There I was exposed to artists and crafts people from around the country. I saw amazing, handmade work in ceramics, glass, fabric, wood, etc. All this creativity and the way of life left an inspired and deep impression on me which fueled my interest in the arts.
How did you bridge creating carved concrete work into marketing at such a young age?
I carved a few small concrete blocks one summer and put frames around them so they could hang on the wall. A friend invited me to exhibit them at a local show in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Still attached to my first carvings, I put a high price on these works. Much to my amazement, a man from New York bought all five pieces I showed that day. This affirmation of my artwork and sale was the door that opened for me and the gateway to the next 45 years of making a living creating and selling my sculptural concrete carvings at high-end craft shows and galleries around the country. In addition to the craft shows, beginning in the early 1990s, restaurant chain Qdoba Mexican Grill has purchased my concrete carvings for their interior design. 400 of their restaurants around the country now showcase my concrete carvings.
Can you describe your process for creating the carved pieces? Do you sketch or work in series at all?
I don’t create from pre-conceived ideas or mental pictures. I never sketch a concept prior to addressing the concrete block itself. My work comes from a visceral experience, not an idea. I have learned to shift into a state of being where I am receptive to images as they unfold from a combination of the process of making, the unconscious and response to the materials themselves. I am also profoundly affected by ambient music like the work of contemporary master musicians like Steve Roach. I am guided on a spontaneous, improvisational journey as I listen to this music while carving.
What are you working on currently?
These days, I am both preparing for a one-man show at the DeGrazia Little Gallery here in Tucson, as well as working on a public art project with a team of local artists.
Can you describe your exhibit and the public art project?
The exhibit at the DeGrazia Gallery will showcase all three aspects of my creative journey thus far. I will be exhibiting sculptural concrete carving, both freestanding and wall reliefs, along with my mixed, recycled and reclaimed assemblages. My digital drawings are also included in the show. Also available will be some books and music I have created over the years. The DeGrazia Little Gallery is the perfect environment and harmonious space to showcase my work.
The public art project I am working on is the concept and vision of Tucson artist, Niki Glen. Niki, myself and local artist Cindee Lyndin will be creating several concrete sculptures to be installed later this year in six different locations around Tucson. These works include sundials, benches, totems and wall reliefs, all reflecting the natural desert environment.
How does your work function as a healing tool for you and the larger community?
The act of creating puts me deeply in the moment. In this way, creating is a mindfulness practice. People are often deeply moved spiritually by my work and many experience a sense of primal energy being evoked. Viewers often report feeling grounded and centered in the presence of the carved pieces. My work connects people to a sense of the past, present and future.
For me, the journey of creating the work is what truly matters. The state of being when I create generates the byproduct, which is the artwork, but the healing aspect is the way both the process and the product transcend our time and current culture.
To view Ralph Prata’s work, visit The DeGrazia Little Gallery, at 6300 N. Swan Rd., Tucson, from January 28 to February 9. An opening reception will be held from noon to 4 p.m., January 28. Connect at RPrata@yahoo.com.
Carolyn King, M.A. in Arts & Consciousness, is a local practicing artist who has worked with communities as a teaching-artist for over 30 years, both in the U.S. and Mexico. Earlier this year, she founded Heart to Hand Studio, where she offers visual arts experiences for Tucson residents and beyond. Connect at CKing72@cox.net.