Rudi Patterson’s Visions in Colour
“I’m inspired by natural harmony and beauty, I love to paint.”
Essay by Wesley Kerr
Rudi was a painter, potter, actor – born in Duckenfield Jamaica in 1933 and died in Notting Hill in 2013 – who for over four decades was a prodigious and successful artist. In life he had over 40 exhibitions (on four continents) and since his death there have been shows in Willesden, Hastings and most notably at Leighton House, Kensington and Orleans House Museum in Twickenham. For decades he supported the idea and project of Black Cultural Archives, and in his last few weeks he recorded an interview about his early years in pre-war Jamaica. BCA holds his personal papers and is now proud to be exhibiting throughout the building many of his paintings and ceramic works – with a large proportion of sale proceeds going to BCA. This is what some experts have said of Rudi’s work.
Daniel Robbins, Senior Curator Leighton House described Rudi’s work as “a vibrant and productive
talent… I’m delighted we had the opportunity in 2014 of presenting the story of Rudi’s extraordinary life and work.”
Rachel Tranter, Director Orleans House Gallery said “Rudi Patterson was one of Jamaica’s most significant visual artists. The highly successful 2015 retrospective exhibition staged at Orleans House showcased the breadth of his talents in different media and styles and proved extremely popular to all visitors.”
Robert Elms BBC London attributes his work as “beautiful, brilliant.” and the Art Fund website quotes his work as “extraordinarily vivid.”
For over forty years, following a career as an international model and actor, Rudi Patterson dedicated himself to painting. He produced a vast body of work, exhibiting widely in London, the UK and internationally – from New York to Ocho Rios to Melbourne, Australia – throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Rudi became famous for potent and vivid representations of his native Jamaica – montane landscapes, plantation villages, luxuriant tropical vegetation, rivers and beaches – but his work also encompassed abstracts, decorative boxes, clothing and an immense amount of beautifully imagined ceramics, many daring in form shape and colour.
“I’m a Jamaican, I love my island and its beauty.”
Rudi Patterson was also a proud Londoner and Briton. His vivid portrayals of home were mostly created from three small painting-bedecked flats in west London. At the time of his death in July 2013, most of the work on display was in his flat, although of course over the years many of his works had been publicly displayed and found homes all over the world.
Rudi’s childhood home in the sugar plantation village of Duckenfield, St. Thomas, is the lea of the Blue Mountains, lush and tropical, where rain comes suddenly and often. After studying in Kingston, he set off in the late Fifties to London hoping to become an actor. He took classes at RADA and through the Swinging Sixties and into the Seventies he was frequently on stage and celluloid. He acted in such classics as Z Cars, The Professionals and the Rolling Stones film Sympathy ForThe Devil. His modelling success was unprecedented for a black man in that era: British Airways, Mr Fish, a big jeans campaign. Appearances in repertory and West End theatre included the ground breaking gay-themed The Boys In The Band and in 1977 the world premiere of Michael Tippett’s The Ice Break at Covent Garden.
Entirely self-taught, he began to draw and paint in 1969 and incessantly so during months of convalescence after breaking his neck water skiing in 1973. Over four decades he created around 1000 pictures as well as hundreds of ceramic pieces, delicately glazed pots, sculptures and platters. He painted in gouache, watercolour, acrylic and oil. In later years he produced colour-drenched abstracts and still-lifes. When wracked by back pain he created vivid linear works. Rudi was involved in some 40 exhibitions including one man shows on four continents encompassing London, Manchester, Jamaica and even Australia.
London allowed his creative juices to flow. He was at home in every milieu the city could offer; émigré, aristocratic, thespian, bohemian – a keen gallery goer and cultural activist. He witnessed both London’s decline and ascent, participating in its evolution from imperium to diversity. He loved the Notting Hill of market, Carnival and Absolute Beginners and lived through riots, Rachman and meterosexuality as his generation changed post-war Britain. Her was an early member of the Caribbean Craft Circle and campaigned for black cultural spaces.
A Jamaican, even the city dweller or diaspora member, finds his or her story in landscape. His work is filled with sonorous landscapes. Through everyday unfamiliar scenes, laden with cultural and social references, Rudi Patterson’s visions of colour open the gates of memory, addressing his people’s story.
Jamaican society was created despite displacement and noted for its defiance, its “irieness”.What you see in his homeland paintings is not as edenistic or arcadian as it seems. Rudi’s remembrances are seldom singular in their meaning. For those unfamiliar with island life, the depiction of an orange or mango harvest can be appreciated simply for the intricate representation of the fruit laden branches or vibrant use of palette and tone. The cleverly skewed perspectives, the ripeness of the fruit, the solidity of the mountains are all evidence of the artist’s skill.
But if the garden is so magical why are the people often looking away? In a Patterson painting the many rivers to cross are not metaphorical; most Jamaican kids of his era had the chore of journeying to the river every day for water. Colonial, Depression and wartime era Duckenfield was tough. Crops are not for decoration but sustenance. Most dwellings are small. Order is disrupted by hurricanes. Nature’s colours clash.
Slavery was instituted to grow plants with ruthless efficiency and was a not so distant memory in Rudi’s youth. But it was the very abundance of indigenous species cultivated in the rich red soil; the endless varieties of fruit and vegetables such as mangoes, ackee, breadfruit, cocoa – perhaps 40 in a small back garden plantation – that enabled Jamaicans and other West Indians to emancipate themselves from physical and mental slavery and to become, like Rudi, creators in new and old worlds.
But my hand was made strong
By the ‘and of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation
“Intuitive” was the term he used. These powerful images came into his head like the duppies (Jamaican for ghosts) he remembered from childhood evenings walking down unlit lanes. They took weeks of work – perhaps assisted by an image from a book of historic plantation houses, a potted tropical plant or a trailing purple Tradescantia pallida in the window.
The Intuitive frees him from rules, and transports us to his visual universe. These pictures represent the New World, but a world inextricably yoked for centuries to Western classicism. There are whiffs of Impressionism, Rousseau, Lowry, Fauvist colours. Patterson presents a uniquely recognisable painterly style. He manifests memories of lush orchards, the beauty of hibiscus, the powerful wind tilting the palms, the engulfing heat of bush fires and recreates his heritage from the creative hub of London.
A collection of Rudi Patterson’s private works are currently on display and sale at Black Cultural Archives until 21 December 2016.
Visiting Hours: Tues-Sat, 10am-6pm. For more details call 0203 757 8500.