Los Angeles

Patricia Patterson


By force of their execution in a style wholly dependent on almost academic realist drawing, and of their content—recollections of the Irish countryside and the hearthside life there—Patricia Patterson’s paintings should collapse into a muddle of sentimentality, but they don’t. To the contrary, when her scenes of a small village and its residents combine with the larger, more patently evocative quotations from an Irish kitchen she created within the gallery, significant questions about realism, depiction, and the subjects of art come into focus more clearly than in more consciously stylized, aggressively Modern work.

I would consider Patterson’s effort here a disingenuous ploy but for the pictures’ plastic candor about themselves and their making. Patterson draws like no one else: thumbnail sketches are repeated, sometimes appearing in the final work as pentimenti, until an absolutely accurate gesture is arrived at. The characters of the people in the paintings fall into place around these physical essences. So it is that Patterson paints these rural folk in their everyday activities: smoking, reading the newspaper, washing dishes, cooking. They do not pose, and we are not obliged to judge them.

To reinforce the quotidian that she has studied so closely Patterson put a small tableau at the center of each of the gallery’s three uninterrupted walls and joined the lot together with a waist-high pippin-green dado. The most imposing of the three, a tall blue-painted breakfront bearing shelves of china, was situated in the middle of the longest stretch of wall. To the left stood a painted-wood facsimile of a wood-burning kitchen stove, with a kettle on it and a black-and-white tile wall, a shelf, and a towel rack festooned with bric-a-brac and towels behind and above it. At the opposite end of the gallery was a black-painted mantel with a small, framed, panoramic photomontage of the Irish countryside above it. In the expanses of wall between these kitchen tableaux were the long, horizontal, casein-on-canvas paintings that formed the bulk of the show. The prototypes of the kitchen elements were to be seen in the paintings. Thus both two- and three-dimensional recreations of real objects were on view, just as both photographic and remembered imagery came into play in the show. The bracing, almost acrid green of the dado found counterparts in the beveled frames of the pictures, painted as they were in two-tone combinations of mostly jarring colors: yellow and blue, gray and orange, orange and yellow. These frames of bright, artificial color (which I take to be keyed-up versions of the color schemes of Irish interior decoration) forcefully set off the painted scenes from the surrounds. They seemed optical announcements of the workings of memory within their bounds. The arid, planar space Patterson creates is the perfect neutral, styleless vehicle for her mind’s-eye pictures.

One painting in particular, The Party, shows Patterson’s deftness of hand clearly. Imagery on its already dry surface has been rubbed out so that a field of tertiary red remains, atop which Patterson has put down relatively few lines of black and white. A sketchy, angular composition, it successfully conveys the welter of synchronous emotions inherent to any group brought to the table by need of food and fellowship.

Richard Armstrong