Los Angeles

Patricia Patterson


The easiest thing to like about Patricia Patterson’s paintings is her subjects, but that is not what makes them important. The strength of the work lies in the artist’s sophisticated technique of building space with color, and her rapid, fluid painting style. Until the past year, almost all of Patterson’s work has portrayed a small community of people in the Aran Islands in the north of Ireland. These simple folk are often shown in the kitchen, near the symbolic hearth. In Mary and Jigs, 1988, a woman who looks to be in her late forties sits at a table smoking a cigarette, while her dog stands by at shoulder height. In Pat Leaving the Kitchen, 1989, a man is shown from the back, walking out the door.

Other pictures are landscapes, most of Irish fields, but more recently of a farm north of San Diego. It is with these new landscapes that the full impact of what Patterson is achieving in her technique becomes clearest. Her painting style is both simple and very precise. Even when she’s showing a deep space, she tends to make it look shallow by creating planes of shapes that hover at the front of the picture: the cabinets in Pat Leaving the Kitchen, for example, or the tall rows of vegetables in Peas and Beans, 1989.

Patterson paints the works’ backgrounds in layers of flat, unmodulated color. Using intense hues of casein paint, she builds each picture from the bottom. Since Patterson obviously paints fast and loose, and brushwork rarely covers any patch of canvas completely, the unusually bright ground color often seeps through, giving a peculiar tone to the blue sky, and making the plant leaves seem translucent. The eye tends to blend the colors together, making the picture read as something approximating realism. Patterson’s hand is so assured that even the simplified forms are imbued with a great deal of information. The colors mix in a broad and exaggerated approximation of a pointillist painting. Further exaggerating the color, Patterson adds a vibrantly colored two-tone frame to all of the paintings. The colors in the frames tend to accentuate those in the canvases. But they also persist in making the frames look like they belong on a grade-school child’s painting, and that memory always undermines the seriousness of Patterson’s achievement.

Susan Freudenheim