Ebony G. Patterson (b. 1981 Kingston, Jamaica) received a BFA in painting at Edna Manley College, Kingston, Jamaica in 2004 before completing an MFA at Sam Fox College, Washington University in St. Louis, MO in 2006. She lives and works in Kingston, Jamaica and Chicago, IL, USA.
Patterson’s expansive practice addresses visibility and invisibility, through explorations of class, race, gender, youth culture, pageantry and acts of violence in the context of “postcolonial” spaces. With the strong sensibility of a painter, Patterson works across multiple media – including tapestry, photography, video, sculpture, drawing and installation – united by her consistent visual language and intention. Each work is intricately embellished and densely layered, in order to draw the viewer closer and to question how we engage in the act of looking.
Patterson states: “I aim to elevate those who have been deemed invisible/un-visible as a result of inherited colonial social structures, by incorporating their words, thoughts, dress, and pageantry as a tactic to memorialize them. It is a way to say: I am here, and you cannot deny me.’
Entrancing and colorful, Patterson’s works command the viewer to look beyond their rich formal characteristics and to acknowledge the realities of social injustice. Using the paradoxical to convey important messages, she draws on far reaching vernaculars of art history, religious imagery and popular culture. Patterson explains that she uses beauty to trap the viewer ‘physically, psychologically and emotionally’ in intricate and seducing compositions. Shrouding figures almost completely, the artist creates a presence of bodies no longer there, which raises pertinent questions about those who are not visible.
Since 2013, the idea of the garden, both real and imagined, has formed an essential arc of Patterson’s practice. Framing the garden as an active site of power, Patterson explores it as a metaphor for “postcolonial” space and an extension of the body. “I am interested in how gardens – natural but cultivated settings – operate with social demarcations. I investigate their relationship to beauty, dress, class, race, the body, land and death.” (Patterson, 2018)
Patterson’s first large-scale institutional solo show, Dead Treez, was organized in 2015 by the Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI and toured to venues throughout the United States. The exhibition presented a complex vision of masculinity, focusing on the gender-bending subculture of dancehall in “postcolonial” Jamaica. Her embellished figurative installation drew attention to the underreported brutality experienced by working class society. Patterson’s recent blockbuster touring exhibition …while the dew is still on the roses… first opened at Perez Art Museum Miami, FL, in 2018 and has since traveled to Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY (2019) and Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, NC (2020). The exhibition took the form of an installation environment evoking a night garden, filled with aesthetic beauty and mourning. The final work in the exhibition is a pertinent video piece, …three kings weep… (2018) which came out of Patterson’s research and thoughts around dress as a way of performing dignity. Patterson poses the question, what does it mean for people who have been seen as systematically powerless to employ the tool of dress as a way to perform their value? …three kings weep… (2018) is held in the public collections of the Brooklyn Museum, NY, USA; Virginia Museum of Fine Art, VA, USA; and Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada.
In new works, Patterson continues to deftly combine splendor with danger. Juxtaposing visibility and invisibility; death and survival, Patterson’s works remain filled with an overwhelming sense of hope. People become memorialized in Patterson’s gardens – each piece is a marker for bodies overlooked. Life fervently continues, and those who live in the garden persist in finding ways to survive.
Patterson has had solo exhibitions and projects at many US institutions including Baltimore Museum of Art (2019); The Studio Museum in Harlem (2016); Atlanta Center for Contemporary Art (2016); and SCAD Museum of Art (2016). Dead Treez, Patterson’s first large-scale institutional solo show, originated at the Kohler Arts Center (2015) and traveled to Museum of Art and Design (2015); Boston University Art Galleries (2016); and UB Art Galleries, University at Buffalo (2017). Patterson’s work was included in Open Spaces Kansas City (2018), the 32nd São Paulo Bienal (2016); the 12th Havana Biennial (2015); Prospect.3: Notes for Now, New Orleans (2014), and the Jamaica Biennial (2014). She was an Artist-in-Residence at the Rauschenberg Foundation (2017) and served on the Artistic Director’s Council for Prospect.4, New Orleans (2017). Patterson has received numerous awards including a United States Artists Award (2018); Tiffany Foundation Grant (2017); Joan Mitchell Foundation Art Grant (2015); and the Andy Warhol Foundation Grant, in conjunction with Small Axe (2012). Patterson’s work is included in a number of public collections, including the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Brooklyn Museum; Art Gallery of Ontario; The Studio Museum in Harlem; Museum of Arts and Design; Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University; Speed Art Museum; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; and the National Gallery of Jamaica. Her first major survey exhibition …while the dew is still on the roses… opened at Pérez Art Museum Miami in 2018; then toured to Speed Art Museum (2019); and the Nasher Museum (2020). Her most recent solo exhibitions include ...when the cuts erupt...the garden rings...and the warning is a wailing... at CAM St. Louis (2020-21, travelling to the San Jose ICA in March 2021) and …for those who come to bear/bare witness… at Kunsthal Aarhus, Denmark (2020-21), and she will be included in the upcoming Athens and Liverpool Biennials (2021). Patterson is represented by Hales Gallery, New York/London and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.