With all of the hype and drama that goes into the New York art world, it's easy to forget that much of the creative energy in the city actually comes from lessor or unknown artists making art on the community level. This is why we loved seeing this article on Clayton Patterson.
Patterson, a photographer and filmmaker, has spent much of the past 25 years obsessively documenting the artists, drag queens, heroin addicts, rabbis, dealers, and new immigrants of the Lower East Side.
Originally from Canada, Patterson and his wife came to the Lower East Side in 1978, after fleeing the "too suburban" Brooklyn (one can only imagine what he thinks of it now). Once there, Patterson opened the Clayton Gallery in 1986, where he has shown everything from work by a Hasidic Jew to work by the leader of the Satan Sinners Nomad gang. He even started a "Wall of Fame," where he would take pictures of local kids from the tenements or the nearby projects who came by the gallery, and then display them in the gallery's front window.
During this same time, Patterson was also busy documenting the rest of the motley community around him, as well as participating in the activist politics around him by filming police interventions in the area. This political documentation eventually led to 13 arrests, he claims, "just for taking pictures."
There is a ton of other interesting stuff in the article, but we have to say the ending hit home in a particularly depressing way:
"History" is the key word, he said. "For over a hundred years, the Lower East Side was a magic crucible where people were inspired to great art and ideas. The Lower East Side probably changed the history of America five hundred times."
In just the last decade, he believes, he has seen the end of that era, as soaring real estate prices have largely emptied the area of its artists, bohemians, radicals and immigrants. The third annual Howl! Festival of East Village Arts, now through Sunday, seems to him as much a nostalgia trip as a celebration of current artistic and intellectual life.
"What we have here now is bars and college students vomiting on the streets," Mr. Patterson sighs. "Nothing will rise out of it. It's all vacuous and lacking substance. When I go out my door now, I don't see anyone I know. I see the loss of a community."
Some of Patterson's photographs can be seen in "Captured: A Film/Video History of the Lower East Side," a collection of interviews and essays documenting the neighborhood's role in the history of film and video. He is also working on a book about the political history of the area.