Obituary: Rudi Patterson
Rudi Patterson, artist of Jamaican heritage, passed on peacefully at the age of 79 on 24 July 2013. He had struggled bravely with illness and surgery for some years. He died of cancer in a hospice near his Westbourne Park home. He leaves behind his son Orville (“Junior”), who had been his devoted carer along with other stalwart friends in the final stages, and relatives in the UK, USA and Jamaica. To the end, Rudi maintained his customary cheerfulness, impeccable calm and dignity, personal charm, warmth and sociability.
Rudi was a long-time supporter of the Black Cultural Archives (BCA). The BCA is extremely grateful that he planned to donate his personal archives to the BCA. In his last days he was being interviewed for BCA’s Oral History Collection, starting with his early life in Jamaica and England. Sadly this was not completed before he died. BCA will complete his life story, including his later 40-year career as an artist, through interviews with relatives and his wide range of friends. BCA aims to mount a retrospective exhibition of his paintings and life-story in the new BCA post-2014. Rudi had always hoped for an exhibition of his artworks in the new BCA.
Rudi was born in rural Duckenfield in Jamaica, in the western parish of St Thomas, and educated in the capital Kingston. Village life, the imposing mountains, lush flora and vegetation, vivid colours, magnificent trees and rivers, would many years later form the key inspiration of his painting. He gradually found his own unique and consistent painting style, which was an idealized and romanticised dream of the Jamaican countryside of his childhood, created in distinctly non-tropical London. He painted in gouache, watercolour, acrylic and oil. He had no formal art training in Jamaica or UK but found his style through his highly personal diasporic experience.
Rudi left home in his late teens to pursue a dream of being an actor – against his family’s wishes. He travelled alone to the UK and without any acting experience secured a place at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). The only black student in his year, he found encouragement and obtained his first acting work even before graduating. He became part of London’s diverse and culturally vibrant Swinging Sixties. With an Equity Card, he had numerous credits in West End theatres and regional rep. companies in the UK and Ireland, notably touring in The Boys in the Band. He also appeared in TV dramas such as Z Cars , The Professionals, and feature films (Sympathy for the Devil ), and once had a non-singing part in the world premiere of Michael Tippett’s opera The Ice Break at the Royal Opera House.
Rudi also established himself at the same period as a successful fashion model. He was photographed in top fashion magazines and modelled for Mr Fish and other leading designers. He was one of very few known black male models in the sixties and seventies, where black fashion images, male or female, were few and far between. And he was a popular addition to any good party.
In 1973 disaster struck in the form of a water skiing accident in Greece, in which Rudi suffered a broken neck. At Stoke Mandeville Hospital there were months of delicate surgery and convalescence but he made a remarkable recovery. In this difficult period, cared for by friends and remaining characteristically cheerful and optimistic, he took up painting “for something to do… and people liked my work”. His work, as an exhibition catalogue noted, recreated the lush Jamaican landscapes imprinted on his memory from childhood. As Wesley Kerr has written, “His work is immediate in appeal, he’s been described as an ‘intuitive’ – but this is a bit simplistic – his imagination is honed by four decades of application and experiment. His work is rooted in the reality and memory of Jamaica , but also enthused by those happy and productive six decades in England , and influenced by painters as varied as Rousseau and Bridget Riley.” He was stylistically far from the Jamaican “intuitive” painters such as Kapo, and he experimented with other, abstract styles. He also loved making pottery and created hundreds of innovative and distinctively glazed ceramic pieces from plates to pots, bowls and vases.
Since the late seventies, Rudi has had numerous one-man and group shows in Britain. He has also had exhibitions in Jamaica, New York, Melbourne and Kuwait. Originals and prints of his paintings have been auctioned and purchased by the United Nations, the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the Royal Society for the Blind, and the Jamaica High Commission in London. His work has been in the collections of friends such as Maya Angelou, Andy Williams, Freddie Mercury, Sir Donald Gosling, Roberta Flack, Twiggy, Ashford and Simpson, Ainsley Harriot, Peter Straker, Tony Villaroel, Wesley Kerr, Dawn and Martin Hill, Mary Bee, at Harmony Hall Gallery in Jamaica and the National Gallery of Jamaica. His pictures and painted boxes can be found in the best hotel rooms from Jamaica’s North Coast to Antigua.
His last exhibition entitled “Visions of Colour” was held in 2011 in the West Indian-owned Effra Tavern in Brixton. He said at the time (aged in his late-seventies) that he worked most days – “I’m inspired by natural beauty and harmony, I love to paint”.
His friends and family will deeply miss Rudi. He was an outstanding cook of Jamaican cuisine, and loved tropical fruit, especially his favourite mango. He was such a star!
Rudi Patterson’s funeral will take place at 12 noon on Friday 9th August 2013 at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Chapel, St Mary’s RC Cemetery, Harrow Road, London W10. A five minutes walk from opposite Kensal Green tube/overground. Bus; 18.
All are welcome.
by Dawn Hill, BCA Chair and Martin Hill
Photo credit: Dawn and Martin Hill