Ebony G. Patterson was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1981. She graduated from the Edna Manley College with an honours diploma in Painting and pursued her MFA in Printmaking and drawing from, the Sam Fox College of Design & Visual at Washington University in St. Louis. She has taught at the University of Virginia and is currently an Assistant Professor in Painting at the University of Kentucky. She has shown her artwork in numerous solo and private exhibitions, such as the National Biennial (2004, 2006, 2008), National Gallery of Jamaica, Infinite Island: Contemporary Caribbean Art (2007), Brooklyn Museum, Gangstas, Disciplez + the Boyz (2009), Cag[e] Gallery, Edna Manley College, and Rockstone and Bootheel (2009), Real Art Ways, Hartford, Connecticut. Patterson has also received several awards, including the Prime Minister’s Youth Awards for Excellence, in Art and Culture (Jamaica) in 2006.
“Beauty, Gender, body and the grotesque are an ongoing discussion in my work. I am enthralled by the repulsive, the bizarre and the objectness of bodies and the contradictions that both have to art historically and culturally. The Jamaican vernacular, gendered cultural symbolisms and stereotypes serve as a platform for these discussions. I am enthused by words, conditions and experiences that objectify and abjectify.”
Ebony’s latest body of work, under the general heading Gangstas for Life, is, at its core, a conversation about gender construction in the Jamaican Dancehall. Gangstas for Life started by exploring the fashionable practice of skin bleaching in the “gangsta” culture but the most recent work has included other fashionable exploits previously associated with the feminine and the wider so-called “bling culture” – the embracing of a feminized aesthetic which stands in striking contrast with Dancehall’s rhetorical homophobia. The images raise questions about changing perceptions of masculinity within a Jamaican context and raises larger questions about beauty, gender ideals and constructs of masculinity within popular Black culture.
After a period of producing Jenny Saville-like explorations of un-lovely female bodies and a transitional period that produced the provocative 220 Clitorises, Ebony Patterson started coming into her own with a body of work which utilises a variety of media but which has at its core the photographic image. Her photographs are, like her batch-mate Marvin Bartley, constructed photographs but they do not remain as autonomous photographs but are transformed into multimedia works by extending the “constructs” through ostentatious embellishments which take their cue from the Warhol-covering-Beuys-with-Diamond-Dust aesthetic of Pop art. With its glorification of kitsch, her work also relates to the aesthetic of Kehinde Wiley, translated into Caribbean terms through hefty doses of popular culture: Carnival costuming, Haitian sequined “flags” and above all of the “bling” of Jamaican Dancehall.
There are clear attempts to fuse the aesthetics of High and Low art. The triptych arrangement of embellished low culture Wall Mart tapestries hints at classics like Titian’s iconic triple portrait in London, the famous Allegory of Prudence, while the stated “re-contextualisation” of works like Barrington Watson’s Conversation (itself based on the classical Three Graces), and the same artist’s Mother and Child provide the ordering structures for the wild abandon of surface decoration on the tapestried bevy of fellow artists cast in the role of Doiley Boys.
If hers is an art of extremes – How far can I go? Is there a pink beyond neon-pink? – she inevitably pulls back from the edge, just enough for us to understand that this art is “no joke”: it is not to be taken lightly. Underlying the tongue-in-cheek approach is a serious examination of the elements of popular taste, the aesthetics of Kingston and Jamaica’s vast and torrid popular culture.
– David Boxer