Ebony G. Patterson: to kiss a flower goodbye
New York CityHales Gallery
Ebony G. Patterson: …to kiss a flower goodbye…
May 5 – June 18, 2022
Bathed in subdued light, …to kiss a flower goodbye…, Ebony G. Patterson’s exhibition of three recent large-scale wall-hung assemblage works or “tapestries,” and two framed photo-collage pieces, sets a mood to summon nocturnal reveries. Optically sumptuous and texturally rich, the colorfully embroidered works feature clusters of long strands of pearlescent white beads that ooze from the top of these irregularly shaped, nearly ten-foot-tall compositions, and pile up on the floor. Similarly elaborate and flashy, the interwoven myriad photo fragments and attached artificial flowers, butterflies, spiders and other insects in the framed photo-collages exude an unabashed sense of opulence.
Intensifying the effect, all of the works hang on gallery walls covered with wallpaper Patterson designed—a repeating pattern of an infrared photographic image of a fern-covered forest floor, with the magenta vegetation radiating against a dark background; the image recalls certain photos from the Congo by Irish photo-artist Richard Mosse. As one moves about the dark gallery, strategically placed pinpoint spotlights heighten the mesmerizing theatrical effect of the installation. Characteristic of her work of nearly the past decade, the Jamaican-born artist—who divides her time between Chicago and Kingston—uses the sensuous, seductive elements of garden imagery—and in this case, a nocturnal garden—to lure viewers into a pensive realm, somewhere between a dream state and restiveness. For the enthralled viewer, she imparts a poignant narrative of colonial and post-colonial violence that unfolds in each work only upon close inspection.
Embedded, for instance, within the transfixing bricolage of the tapestry titled in the lament…there is a nest…a bursting a…nourishing (all works 2021–22), are photo fragments of a pair of severed hands. The extremities are nearly hidden among the densely packed images of vibrant flora and fauna that refer to the artist’s Caribbean heritage. In a press statement, Patterson indicates that the fragmented body parts allude to dismemberment as a way to suggest violence within the beautiful landscape. In her vision, the tropical vegetation serves as a kind of camouflage, disguising the consequences of colonialism’s systematic violence, as well as the results of racism, sexism, and post-colonial political strife and corruption.
Spanning over nine-by-sixteen feet, the framed two-panel photo-assemblage …pink. . . red…striped…carnations… addresses issues of violence against women. At the center of each panel, amid gleaming bunches of flowers and groupings of iridescent butterfly wings—all made of hand-cut and torn digital prints embellished with glitter and feathers—the torso of a headless female figure appears. Wearing a low-cut cocktail dress, her arms are those of Black woman, contrasting with the white skin of her chest. One scans the countless details of the composition to find other body parts, or clues as to the dismembered woman’s identity and the circumstances of her fate, though in vain. Large cut-out letters in the lower portion of each panel spell the words “forever,” on the left, and “in waiting,” on the right, words of lamentation with which the artist refers to the role of a mourner.
Created during the pandemic, when Patterson was isolated in the United States and unable to visit family and friends in Jamaica, her work may be seen collectively as an elegiac expression of suffering and loss, despite the surface voluptuousness and ebullience. The lasting energy and impact of Patterson’s endeavor, however, would seem to derive from the work’s inherent and intentional irresolution—the eternally relevant conflict between formal beauty and tragic theme.