Richard Patterson is one of the YBAs (Young British Artists) to emerge in the late 1980s, and a participant in both the Freeze and Sensation exhibitions which helped to define a generation, Patterson’s work has only been seen occasionally in the UK since his move to the US, and this survey exhibition gives a welcome overview of the past 15 years of painting, by this most intriguing and thoughtful of artists.
His compositions are often complex multivalent constructs, switching between meticulous realism and deft, rehearsed passages of abstraction sometimes even on the same canvas. As Toby Kamps has observed “Patterson achieves – technically and thematically – a thrilling simultaneity of images and ideas”. His paintings run the gamut of symbolic and cultural referents, from European art history to Japanese trucks, from Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders to Greek myth. Each painting for Patterson is a chance to engage with techniques and effect, but also on a philosophical level to make complex interconnections of meaning, image and making.
Aware when starting out as a painter that painting had already been declared dead by critics and theorists alike, Patterson decided to relax and just do what he felt like, which included a new mode of painting which he dubbed ‘hyperabstraction’ – a combination of abstracted subject matter and hyperrealist style, developed to meet the needs of the emergent digital age. Your Own Personal Jesus, 2011 , is a recent example of hyperabstraction, a revisiting of one of a series of works dedicated to the depiction of a scaled up plastic Motocrosser toy covered in richly coloured oil paint, and a remake of the 1994 work which was destroyed in the Momart fire in 2004. Referencing his hero De Kooning in the heavily impastoed plastic model, the painting was nevertheless rendered in a cool and flat style, while clearly mediated with photographic effects of blurring and close-up. This simultaneity of cool and hot is at the heart of Patterson’s practice and achievement.
Patterson himself has acknowledged that the Motocrosser is a surrogate for the artist, once a motorbiking enthusiast, and several other works in Patterson’s oeuvre function as oblique self-portraits. In Half Minotaur, 2000, we view the eponymous toy from the rear – a mysterious, melancholy, yet also abject figure, which Patterson acknowledges as an arch self-portrait, referencing Picasso’s Vollard Suite of prints in which the artist appears as grizzled minotaur. In Gorgeous Loves Urgent, 2010, another favoured motif makes a reappearance: the Thomson cat, the 1980s logo for a UK phone directory. Patterson admits the cat, painted in a loose, expressionistic and even humorous vein, is a representation of his darker side: the cartoon animal appearing simultaneously friendly, demonic and depraved.
Patterson’s work is characterized by its densely layered and heavily mediated qualities, and this is nowhere more evident than in Portrait of the Artist as an Older Man, 2009, where he meticulously renders the head in Bellini’s famous portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan, amidst bravura passages of abstract painting, which themselves obscure and ornament lovingly rendered images of female breasts. Patterson suggests that the latter may well be a commentary on his life in Dallas, where the cult of physical perfection is taken to extremes. As Patterson so acutely observes “The plastic surgeons have taken the place of the portrait artist or court painter, only now they work directly on the model instead of from the model”.
Richard Patterson is one of the UK’s most thoughtful and accomplished painters of recent years, whose works dramatise the collision of often clashing cultures and traditions: Europe and the US, abstraction and figuration, the conceptually cool and autobiographically hot.
The exhibition coincides with the launch of the first major monograph of Patterson’s career. Encompassing over 20 years, this Ridinghouse publication is the largest-scale, most substantial catalogue of Patterson’s work to date. Featuring over 150 plates and illustrations with texts by Martin Herbert, Toby Kamps and Jeremy Strick, it focuses on Patterson’s most important work from the past two decades, with studio shots and insights into his working processes, all brought together for the first time.
Born in the UK in 1963, Patterson graduated from Goldsmiths College in 1986. He now lives and works in Dallas. Patterson has exhibited internationally in numerous group exhibitions including Damien Hirst’s renowned Freeze, Surrey Docks, London (1988); as well as Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection, Royal Academy of Arts, London (1997)
Richard Patterson 19 April-1 June Timothy Taylor Gallery
All images © Richard Patterson; Courtesy, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London