Finding light through the darkness at the Speed Art Museum
By Laura Ross
Photos courtesy of the Speed Art Museum
Violet floral wallpaper. Tapestries and sculptures smothered in silk flowers, vines and butterflies. Vibrant, sparkling colors and textures that tell a story that is dark, rich and glorious. That’s the theme behind the Speed Art Museum’s upcoming Ebony G. Patterson exhibition, “…while the dew is still on the roses…” – which opens in June.
“It will be a dazzling site-specific installation,” enthused Speed Art Museum Curator of Contemporary Art Miranda Lash. Replete with twilight-colored cloth wallpaper, vegetal growths sprouting from the walls and silk leaves, flowers and vines falling from the ceiling and framing paintings, the exhibition augments 13 of Patterson’s large-scale works that include videos, drawings and tapestries, six of which were created for the show.
Kingston, Jamaica-born artist Patterson lives and works in Kingston, Lexington, and Chicago. The internationally acclaimed artist is known for her immensely colorful and immersive installations that draw the eye but tell a deeper story of danger, disenfranchisement and racial inequities.
“She showcases vibrant colors, ornate surfaces and mysterious figures embedded within her lush landscapes,” explained Lash. “Using beauty as a tool, she seduces her viewers into bearing witness to social injustices. The figures in her tapestries and videos raise awareness about the systemic problem of violence experienced by people of color, particularly young black and brown men.”
The works investigate forms of embellishment as they relate to youth culture within disenfranchised communities. According to Lash, Patterson’s Neo-Baroque works address violence, masculinity, “bling,” visibility and invisibility within the post-colonial context of her native Jamaica and within black youth culture globally.
Throughout her career, Patterson has often placed her individual works within entirely constructed environments by using distinct wall colors or cloth wallpapers or by mixing two-dimensional with three-dimensional elements. “…while the dew is still on the roses…” will transform an entire North Building gallery at the Speed into a highly decorative theatrical space.
“This is by far our most expansive presentation of Ebony G. Patterson’s work to date,” said Lash. “We have acquired her artwork and exhibited her pieces in the past, but this presentation will occupy the entire second floor of our North Building. The Speed is committed to engaging with challenging issues and exhibiting art that is at the forefront of contemporary discourse. We are also happy to celebrate brilliant artists of color with ties to our region.”
Originally organized by the Perez Art Museum Miami (Florida), the exhibition is the most significant presentation of Patterson’s work to date. It includes work produced over the last five years and is embedded within a new installation environment that references a night garden.
For Patterson, a night garden evokes a space of mysterious and dangerous beauty, said Lash. “It’s also a site of splendor, danger and burial,” she added. “She has created this space of memorial to capture, mourn and glorify the passing of too many sparkling lives.”
The Speed has showcased Patterson’s work in recent years, but this solo exhibition offers something special. “The Speed’s presentation will be even larger than the Perez Art Museum Miami venue,” explained Lash. “We will show a video piece entitled, ‘The Observation: The Bush Cockerel Project, A Fictitious Historical Narrative,’ that has not been shown as a full projection room since it was exhibited in Jamaica in 2012. We will also be including new works made in the last year that will be shown in a museum for the first time.”
The public opening for Patterson’s “…while the dew is still on the roses…” will be part of the June 21 After Hours event at the Speed and will include a panel with Patterson and Lash. Poet Hannah Drake will also perform, and live music will be heard throughout the evening. In the coming months, the Speed will incorporate the exhibition into teacher professional development sessions, both over the summer and into the next school year, with tours of the exhibition offered for schoolchildren starting in September. Ebony G. Patterson “…while the dew is still on the roses…” will be featured at the Speed from June 21 until Jan. 5, 2020.
Patterson’s Kentucky connections speak to the Speed’s continued outreach to artists across the state. “This exhibition is an excellent example of how we can showcase artists with ties to Kentucky who have internationally successful careers in the art world,” said Lash. “She was an incredible teacher at the University of Kentucky for over 10 years, and although she now is based in Chicago and her hometown of Kingston, Jamaica, she left an indelible mark on our community. We’re thrilled to bring her back to celebrate the incredible growth her work has experienced in recent years.” V
For more information on Ebony Patterson’s “…while the dew is still on the roses…,” visit speedmuseum.org.