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California Center for the Arts Presents Patricia Patterson: Here and There

The California Center for the Arts, Escondido Museum presents Patricia Patterson : Here and There (February 12–July 4, 2011), a landmark retrospective exhibition, filling the entire 9,000 square feet of Center Museum.

The exhibition will attempt to summarize a lifetime of Patterson’s work, while giving full attention to the particularities of the Museum’s galleries: spacious rooms, tall ceilings, cool and classic design. A new work will be created specifically for one of the galleries, fusing two previous environmental pieces Patterson created for distinct shows. This piece acknowledges the reality of creating a work in one culture about another, far away. Patterson, a nationally recognized and locally based artist and University of California, San Diego professor emeritus, creates theatrical installations and sumptuously painted snapshots that provide a visual account of facets of domestic and outdoor life on Inishmore (one of the Aran Islands located off the western coast of Ireland) and her home in Southern California.

Born and raised on the East Coast, Patterson studied at Parsons School of Design in New York before embarking on an adventure that would steer the course of her artistic career. At the age of nineteen she read J. M. Synge’s The Aran Islands, and soon found herself on the island of Inishmore. Patterson was instantly captivated by the island, and set plans to return a year later after finishing her degree at Parsons. Upon her return to Inishmore, she spent the next two years immersing herself in an “ever changing spectacle” of land, sky, water, and language. Patterson found a craggy, rugged terrain and difficult living conditions that provided a sharp contrast to the warm and generous character of the people she met. Since this original visit, Patterson has returned to the island a dozen times for extended sojourns. These experiences serve as the origin to a life’s work that offers a series of individual glimpses into the lives of others like scenes from a film that define a set of characters and places of daily life—an everyday theatre. Patterson’s interest in performance also has roots in the film criticism on which she and her husband, artist and film critic Manny Farber, collaborated in the 1970s, contributing to such magazines as Artforum, Film Comment, and Francis Ford Coppola’s City.

At the core, Patterson makes art about “ordinary things,” a subject matter that is, as she puts it, “…tricky…Using domestic material is risky; it can seem too sentimental, too intimate.” Yet Patterson navigates expertly around too much sentimentality and intimacy, creating works monumental in both scale and subject matter. There is particular attention paid to the kitchen in her work. From reading a newspaper to skinning a rabbit, the subjects in Patterson’s kitchen are center stage in the artist’s ever unfolding play of life. Text also plays a role in Patterson’s art. In the great storytelling tradition of the people of Inishmore, Patterson adds the element of text to aid in the visual description of her people and places. With references to death, plants, eating, art and every other aspect of life, Patterson’s individual words and abrupt texts function similarly to the snapshots or film stills she creates on her canvases. Patterson creates scenarios that are complex and highly representational, while her use of color is savvy and her lines quick and sophisticated. Her color palette is often described as vibrant and inviting, conveying the warmth, vitality, and immediacy of her subjects. Patterson is renowned for her handling of the medium. Rich ultramarine blue, chrome yellow, fresh pea green, and bright orchid—a potentially garish mixture to a less adept artist—combine and juxtapose each other to bring a warm accessibility to Patterson’s paintings.

Preferring the chalky, matte finish of casein paint, Patterson builds her paintings from the bottom with fast, fluid, and loose brush strokes. Success with such gestural brushwork comes from intense familiarity with her subjects. The dichotomy of the fast brushwork and careful sensitivity results in a dynamic, living quality imparted to her subjects. As she remarks, “What I really try for is the sense that things exist on the canvas and breathe.” Within the exhibition, the viewer will encounter the vast landscapes of Inishmore and gardens of Southern California alongside the interiors of Aran homes complete with evocative paintings and artifacts. In addition, the artist will create a customized installation by expanding on a piece created for the Los Angeles County Museum in 1985 and fusing it with elements from a temporary site-specific installation that was presented at the University of Texas, Arlington in 1987. Next, visitors will be able to explore documentation of public art projects Patterson has realized around San Diego, including a visual identity for The Children’s Museum encompassing a full city block; her piece for the binational art project inSITE97—a separate wing off of a lived-in home in Tijuana; and her garden for The Flower Fields Color Project 2000 in Carlsbad. Patterson was also commissioned to create a color design project for the San Diego County wastewater plant at the tip of Pt. Loma. Last, the artist will also create a photo collage, which will display for the first time her photographs spanning thirty years of Inishmore. Overall, the exhibition in Escondido draws upon the artist’s lifelong experiences of environments, from Ireland to Southern California.

Image: Pat with Cigarette and Yellow Jug,, 1986

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