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A Window Installation Curated by Gryphon Rue
PRINTED MATTER | 38 St Marks Place, NYC | March 10 - April 25, 2021
This window exhibition, curated by Gryphon Rue, consists of over 300 of Clayton Patterson’s iconic photographs of the Lower East Side tiled on the windows of Printed Matter / St Marks along with three prints from his Pyramid Club portrait series.
Clayton Patterson’s photo archive of the Lower East Side is a living treasure that plays by its own rules and has its own logic. Paddling through can be hairy. The search felt like punching air holes from inside a cardboard box, or digging through the pockets of a ghost. How does one find order in an avalanche of souls?
Clayton gave me permission to dive in, flail for a while. After mapping the cavernous regions, I constructed two groups of images spanning 1985-1999 for the windows of Printed Matter / St Marks, titling the creation Beauty Mark: a plunge into the honest-to-God beauty, ugliness, glory, dignity, innocence, wisdom, sexiness, sweetness, danger, decency, wisdom, brutality, joy, love, warts-and-all of Clayton’s LES. It’s a place that demands lifeblood and honesty, a keeper of the beating heart of one of the most complex, eccentric, diverse areas of NYC.
There is also a smooth and easy collective body of people gyrating with pleasure and play.
For more than thirty years Clayton has photographed folks from the neighborhood and passersby in front of his door at 161 Essex St. Some of these people are photographed over decades. Many portraits find their way into Clayton’s street-facing window. Because of its numerous graffiti tags Clayton’s door became the Wall of Fame, and the photos in the window the Hall Of Fame.
All the faces, the stories in the eyes, from skeptical, to wakeful, stricken with emotion, are as widely varied as there are types of people. We can see the moments where souls connected. Souls were saved. The many walks of life, a chain of Hindu gods, gang signs, peace signs, a hand gun, hand signs of children, a constellation of skin colors, eyes, hair, teeth, body languages. Dress, fashion, the youth can tell you the year and season just by the sneakers.
Ordinary life, friendship, lovers, gangs, crews. Babies in strollers in the 80s, teenagers flexing with their poses in the 90s, suddenly adults with kids perched on their shoulders at millennium’s end.
The vanished and vanquished clubs and squats. Undercover cops, the DEA busting bodegas, Neighborhood Watch, murals and tributes, rent increases, demolition of community. Men in trench coats carry a white scale model of a city block into a building, try to sell the idea of selling the neighborhood. Not knowing their high-end designers’ clothes were not a symbol of sophistication and a good education, rather something closer to an invader’s military garb.
Protests in Tompkins: “STOP WAREHOUSING APARTMENTS” … “GENTRIFICATION IS CLASS WARFARE. FIGHT BACK!” … “THE ONLY GOOD RACIST IS A DEAD RACIST. EDUCATE OUR CHILDREN…DON’T PUNISH OUR PEOPLE!”
All photos displayed are for sale as 3.5” x 5” prints signed by Clayton Patterson. Turnaround time for orders is one week.
ABOUT: Printed Matter, Inc. was founded by a loose consortium of artists, critics, and publishers—including Sol LeWitt, Lucy Lippard, Carol Androcchio, Amy Baker (Sandback), Edit DeAk, Mike Glier, Nancy Linn, Walter Robinson, Ingrid Sischy, Pat Steir, Mimi Wheeler, Robin White and Irena von Zahn—in 1976 as a for-profit art space in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City. The original concept arose from Sol LeWitt's desire for artists to take over the means of production of their variously serious, unique, and oddball artist's books (alternatively known as "bookworks" or "book art"). At the time, these artist's books were viewed as inconsequential and used by dealers as free promotional materials, instead of being regarded as art. [Source: wikipedia] ►more
ABOUT: Gryphon Rue is an artist, composer and curator working across disciplines. Rue performs in the audiovisual project Rue Bainbridge and in duo with sound artist Merche Blasco. Rue is the creator of Strange Attractor (pub. Inventory Press & Ballroom Marfa). Hosts Earmark on Montez Press Radio. Runs drone, a not-for-profit arts space located at 1 Hudson St, NYC. Films are distributed by The Film-Makers’ Cooperative. ►more
Clayton Patterson wrote on Mon, Mar 15, 2021 at 05:32 AM | The Flower, the Wolf, and the Curator. Clayton photo show at Printed Matter. Curated by Gryphon Rue.
2 images: I have been reflecting on 2 images, since the opening of my photo show at Printed Matter yesterday. Curated bt Gryphon Rue.
The Flower: I remember when I was young watching a stop action film on TV. A a tightly wrapped, hard as a rock bud, wrestling and struggling to push off the other shell and unfolding into a full on flower.
The Wolf was the other image. For Gryphon, family is of utmost importance. In his own quiet way circling the pack of people who came to the show. The curious and the loyal who came to see what he had produced. Quiet and almost silent. Fully in charge. Wearing his grandfather's wolf cap. The wolf cap was one of the custom jewels that Elsa produced following his father's specifications.
The curator— most people who look at my photos act like they are flipping the channels of a TV.. click.. click.. click. He stops . He looks. Comes back and looks again. He thinks, and he makes his choice. That impressed me. The wolf.
Clayton Patterson’s photos at Printed Matter / St. Mark’s. (Photo by Johanna Rietveld)
Photo show offers a window onto Lower East Side of ’80s and ’90s | Review by Lincoln Anderson, The Village Sun on March 28, 2021: If you want a glimpse into what the gritty and colorful Lower East Side looked like in the 1980s and ’90s, walk by the windows at Printed Matter / St. Mark’s, on the corner of Second Ave.
You’ll find taped up there 300 of documentarian Clayton Patterson’s neighborhood photos. They’re snapshots into another era, from decades ago. And yet many feel as if they could have been taken yesterday.
The shots were assembled by Patterson’s friend Gryphon Rue, an artist, musician and curator working across disciplines. Patterson gave Rue rare access to his voluminous photo archive, setting him loose to pick whatever he wanted to use.
The resulting exhibit, “Beauty Mark: Clayton Patterson,” went up on March 10 and runs through April 25.
The photos in the two windows show local gang members and punks, Pyramid Club drag queens, cops and people being arrested, homeless people in the Tompkins Square Park Tent City and lots of locals — teenagers striking poses, lovers embracing, proud parents with their babies, Bengali immigrant families. Some of the images’ running themes include gentrification, riots, old storefronts and police brutality. On the other hand, some shots humanize the cops, showing them in light moments and unguarded poses. In one image, an officer points an old-school Polaroid camera back at Patterson.
Many of the photos were snapped in front of the door a.k.a. “The Door” of the documentarian’s Essex St. building. (Due to all of the tags on it by local graffiti writers, the door also became known as “The Wall of Fame.”)
In an era before digital photography, Patterson would then tape up the developed prints in the place’s ground-floor window in an ever-changing display that became known as “The Hall of Fame.”
Inside the Printed Matter bookshop, there are also three portrait-size photos of drag queens from Patterson’s Pyramid Club series. “Clayton Patterson’s photo archive of the Lower East Side is a living treasure that plays by its own rules and has its own logic,” Rue wrote. “Paddling through can be hairy. The search felt like punching air holes from inside a cardboard box, or digging through the pockets of a ghost. How does one find order in an avalanche of souls?
“Clayton gave me permission to dive in, flail for a while. After mapping the cavernous regions, I constructed two groups of images spanning 1985-1999 for the windows of Printed Matter / St. Marks, titling the creation “Beauty Mark”: a plunge into the honest-to-God beauty, ugliness, glory, dignity, innocence, wisdom, sexiness, sweetness, danger, decency, wisdom, brutality, joy, love, warts-and-all of Clayton’s L.E.S. It’s a place that demands lifeblood and honesty, a keeper of the beating heart of one of the most complex, eccentric, diverse areas of NYC.
“All the faces, the stories in the eyes, from skeptical, to wakeful, stricken with emotion, are as widely varied as there are types of people,” Rue said. “We can see the moments where souls connected. Souls were saved. … Dress, fashion, the youth can tell you the year and season just by the sneakers.
“The vanished and vanquished clubs and squats. Undercover cops, the D.E.A. busting bodegas, Neighborhood Watch, murals and tributes, rent increases, demolition of community.
“Protests in Tompkins: ‘STOP WAREHOUSING APARTMENTS’ … ‘GENTRIFICATION IS CLASS WARFARE. FIGHT BACK!’ … ‘THE ONLY GOOD RACIST IS A DEAD RACIST. EDUCATE OUR CHILDREN…DON’T PUNISH OUR PEOPLE!’
“Little did we know how prophetic the slogans were.” Johanna Rietveld, the bookstore manager at Printed Matter / St. Mark’s, said the exhibit has been a hit, connecting with people, including locals who personally know the photo subjects.
“It’s been really nice to see how it draws people in and people spend a lot of time looking at it,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of people recognize old friends, people they know. People come in and say, ‘Who took the picture?’ and that Clayton took a picture of them and ask if we have one of them. People saying they haven’t seen people for 20 years and wonder where they are now.”
She said there has been a lot interest in a photo of a man sporting a black beret named Twilight.
“Quite a few people recognized him, hadn’t seen him forever,” she said.
According to Rue, there are no photos of the exhibition online. All of the images in the windows are for sale for $50 each. Patterson will provide high-quality 3.5-inch-by-5-inch scans of them, signed on the back. Turnaround time to get the signed images back from Patterson is one week. These are an “open edition.” It’s not clear yet if the three portrait-size photos — high-quality photo prints — of the drag queens inside the store will be for sale. They are a limited edition of seven each.
Patterson and Printed Matter will share in any proceeds. Rue is not getting anything. For Patterson, it’s not about the money anyway. “Printed Matter is a place that I support,” he said. “Gryphon Rue is a brilliant musician.”
Patterson noted that Rue played the saw at a show of the documentarian’s work at the HOWL! Happening gallery, on E. First St.
As for Twilight, Patterson remembers him well. “He did leatherwork,” he recalled. “He was from the Caribbean. He ended up on the cover of one of the Rolling Stones albums — three guys sitting together on a stoop on the Lower East Side. They shot it on St. Mark’s. They set it up, with Mick Jagger. … Of course, they always set those shots up.”
As for what happened to Twilight, Patterson said, “I’m not sure. He’s one of those guys that disappear.”
But his photo by the L.E.S. documentarian remains.
Clayton Patterson: Beauty Mark | Review by Nicholas Heskes, Brooklyn Rail, April 2021 Issue: The Lower East Side has a long and tumultuous history. Traces of past eras are hidden in plain sight across every street corner, storefront, and old tenement building, visible even under the veneer of wealth and gentrification that has invaded one of the oldest and most ethnically diverse parts of Manhattan.
At Printed Matter’s St. Marks location, one particular chapter of this history is represented through the photographs of local legend Clayton Patterson. This series of more than 300 images, carefully selected from Patterson’s archive by curator Gryphon Rue, covers a relatively brief but volatile period between 1985 and 1999, during which Patterson played an important role as documenter of the vibrant culture, crime, and transformation of the neighborhood he and his partner Elsa Rensaa moved to in 1979. Some of the portraits in this street-side window exhibition are of passersby outside of Patterson’s front door at 161 Essex Street. Many are portraits of drag queens, gang members, orthodox Jews, street kids, and homeless people. Still more are of street signage, graffiti, well-known locations like CBGB and historic events like the police raid of the encampment at Tompkins Square Park in 1988.
Patterson’s photographs stand out for their faithful directness. Patterson photographed his neighborhood every single day for over 30 years, and the many iterations of his subjects reflect their daily comings and goings over the years. His photos almost have an ethnographic quality achieved through his sincere approach to documenting the various counter-culture scenes, styles, and ethnic groups of the eras he witnessed, focusing on the individual as an icon of the collective. But Patterson’s pictures are rapidly becoming historical photography, as the neighborhood he captured in such methodical detail has nearly disappeared. That things have changed is no accident. Patterson’s relentless documentation of this fact is evidence enough of the truth, that violent policing and the “rebranding” efforts of New York City mayors have stifled the spontaneity of the city’s artists while relocating the problems of crime and poverty by ruthlessly pricing out and incarcerating the criminalized and impoverished.
A photo of the iconic entrance to CBGB (now a John Varvatos store where imitations of 1980s LES fashions are sold for upwards of $300) hangs near the middle of the diamond shaped window display, empty, a ghostly visage nearly fading into the grey of the concrete surrounding it. Below this picture is one of former mayor Rudy Giuliani making his way through a crowd of reporters escorted by police. His face is turned away from the sun, dark shadows are cast over his eyes. Clustered around are other pictures, of tents and fires, police holding onto head wounds and checking pulses (yet no pictures of their violence, which Patterson was arrested many times for capturing). Around these pictures are portraits of people smiling, of many types and pigmentations, various ages and styles. The display is a collage, but it gives the distinct impression of a memorial for the dead, though many pictured are still alive.
The people come and go throughout Patterson’s pictures, often appearing multiple times in different clothes, with different expressions, in different places. All just evidence of the flow of real life. The man with an eyepatch. The street kid with piercings and orange hair. The man with shifty eyes. The woman with long fingernails. There are too many to describe, too many to understand how they might all have lived, or what they might have said right before being photographed. For a passerby on the street, a newer resident who may have no connection to these photographs, these photographs are liable to be misinterpreted as representing a time much like the present, since many of the styles of the 1980s and ’90s have returned, and the political conflicts of those decades have only accelerated. But the ubiquity of self-branding through images on social media has altered our perception of time so significantly that the particular iconicity of the past may be no longer accessible. The significance of Patterson’s photographs, as any interview with him makes clear, does not lie only in their aesthetic quality but in the spontaneous, uncapitalized, and unselfconscious unfolding of life they reference.
Taken as a whole, there seemed to me no consistent thread or intention behind the selection process on Rue’s part, aside from a desire to show the eccentricity, variety, and beauty of the people and times Patterson captured. The pictures are grouped together by series but scattered in their focus on events and individuals, each placed in jarring contrast to those surrounding it. There is nevertheless a charm to the scattered memorial, a chaotic memory of things gone by, without particular focus, because life simply happens without particular focus.
Nicholas Heskes is an artist, writer, and translator.