Rudi Patterson (1933-2013), model, actor and painter is a significant figure that has marked and influenced the London art scene since the 1960s; he was active in different social and cultural milieu and his personal and artistic identity bridged the gap between Western tradition and Caribbean sub-cultures, old and new world. As an actor, model and painter Rudi is a ground-breaking figure, symbol of integration of Caribbean black culture within the social and artistic context of London. After moving to the English capital in the 1950s, Patterson was one of the first black models to appear in popular campaigns such as the ones of British Airways, Mr Fish and a big jeans campaign. His acting career saw him playing roles in famous films and television series’ including: Z Cars, The Professionals and the Rolling Stones film Sympathy For the Devil. He started painting at the end of the 1960s, studying as autodidactic until he fully dedicated to art from the early 1970s, following a water-skiing accident and the subsequent convalescence during which he painted constantly. As an artist he was incredibly productive, outstanding for his unique representation of Jamaican landscape, alongside his interest in the urban scenario of West London where he lived until he passed away last year.
The first retrospective exhibition of his work in the UK is about to open the doors this Friday at the Leighton House Museum. Co-curated by Wesley Kerr and Novelette-Aldoni Stewart, the show will feature Patterson’s works never showcased to the public before. The collection includes mainly landscape paintings found in his council house flat after he passed away last summer, although the artist also used to produce still lifes, abstract paintings and ceramics works. The originality of his work lies in the powerful character of the visual memory of the artist for the Caribbean life and nature. This remained his consistent source of inspiration for over 50 years, along with his unique capacity for incorporating images of the island with the urban landscape of the West London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. In fact, the area, characterised by a large presence of Caribbean immigrants, became another source of inspiration for Rudi who explored, and was in contact with, the different social stratification in the area, from aristocracy and celebrities (like Freddy Mercury who also owned several of his paintings) to Bohemian, thespian and popular contexts.
The works presented at the Leighton House depict more than childhood memories of the artist’s homeland; they represent the ideal and personal internalisation of those images. With a naïf style, he transcended the real world to communicate feelings, impressions, and emotions, such that only memories can usually evoke. These works certainly find historical grip on 19th Century French paintings from post-impressionism to fauvism, especially reminding of Paul Gauguin’s exotic depictions of Polynesian people and sceneries.
Nevertheless Patterson’s paintings represent more than a purely bucolic scenario; nature is portrayed as part of the everyday life of the people inhabiting these rural settings, while the environment is often shaped by the cultivation of species and plants for agricultural purposes. People’s presence shapes the pictures as much as the florid green vegetation, while nature itself is occasionally overwhelming; we can almost sense the rapid weather changes such as tropical rain showers and hurricanes in some of the paintings.
The works displayed, mainly representing landscapes, are more than photographic memories of Rudi’s homeland; as imaginative constructions, they subtly or more explicitly quote the urban jungle of London and the English culture. Green fields and detached houses, colourful flowers and fenced gardens belong to the British visual culture as well as sub-urban and countryside environments. In some instances, the urban landscape familiar to Rudi’s everyday experience is explicitly merged with, and incorporated to, his “other” world. For instance in A view from my window, a window of a domestic interior shows the cityscape in the background; behind a vase with red flowers, reflective of Van Gogh’s sunflowers, the window frames form a triptych composition of almost classical touch.
Rudi’s work is a perfect example of the effect on cultural production of the hybridised subject of the postcolonial world; the artist’s work peacefully overlaps different cultural identities, self and other.
What makes Patterson a unique figure in the art world? And what inheritance has he left to the present day London art scene?