ATTENDING ART SCHOOL in Jamaica, Ebony G. Patterson made a “classically inclined” painting that she didn’t love. Her undergraduate professor recognized that she was struggling and asked her why she was pursuing the medium in that style. “Ebony, is this really what you want to do?” he asked. “This is torture.” She knew he was right and agreed it was indeed torture. After he was gone, the artist said to herself, “I don’t want to do this” anymore.
Patterson shifted gears and hasn’t looked back. Studying in the United States, she earned an MFA in printing and drawing from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. (2006). In the nearly two decades since, she has steadily built a highly regarded, multidisciplinary practice grounded in botanical beauty and substantive social issues. Now her “paintings” are three-dimensional, mixed-media collage works and her garden installations are complex spaces carpeted in ﬂora, fauna, and brilliant color.
Her work has been showcased in numerous exhibitions at an international slate of galleries and museums, including recent solo shows at Hales Gallery in New York; Monique Meloche Gallery in Chicago; Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco; Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose; Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis;Kunsthal Aarhus in Denmark; Pérez Art Museum Miami in Florida; Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Ky.; and Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
Later this month, Patterson is opening a major exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden and she is the recipient of a prominent national award.
In recognition of her singular practice, Patterson received the 2023 David C. Driskell Prize on April 28. The High Museum of Art in Atlanta announced the distinguished prize and in a statement noted that Patterson produces “multilayered works in a variety of media that contrast beautiful, lush imagery, color and texture with darker underlying themes addressing societal and political injustices.
The statement continued: “Her complex compositions, which at ﬁrst may appear celebratory, draw the viewer in to discover deeper truths relating to race-based class issues, social division and political violence. These interrogations explore the legacies inherent in postcolonial spaces, often memorializing and honoring the lives of those who have been deemed socially invisible or ‘unvisible.’”
Ebony G. Patterson’s “complex compositions, which at first may appear celebratory, draw the viewer in to discover deeper truths relating to race-based class issues, social division and political violence.”
Patterson joins an impressive group of artists, curators, and scholars celebrated for their “ﬁeld-deﬁning contributions to African American art.” Previous recipients of the $50,000 Driskell Prize include Huey Copeland, Amy Sherald, Naima Keith, Mark Bradford, Rashid Johnson, Valerie Cassel Oliver, and Kellie Jones. Patterson was honored in Atlanta at the High Museum’s 18th annual Driskell Prize Gala.
In a video produced to accompany the prize, Patterson talked about how she found her artistic footing and left the “torture” behind.
“As much as there is all of this weight in the conversations that I am having when making the work, for me, there are even greater acts of pleasure. It is the joy in doing, in making, in discovering. That’s the place that I sit when I’m making,” the artist said. “I ﬁnd that the trappings of beauty that I’m employing in the work become the moment to lure the person in—if they spend a little bit more time in the looking, that the work begins to reveal itself in complicated ways.”
“As much as there is all of this weight in the conversations that I am having when making the work, for me, there are even greater acts of pleasure. It is the joy in doing, in making, in discovering. That’s the place that I sit when I’m making.”
— Ebony G. Patterson
Patterson divides her time between Kingston, Jamaica, where she was born, and Chicago, Ill. Last year, she was named co-artistic director (with Miranda Lash) of Prospect.6, the New Orleans triennial that will be staged over three months beginning in November 2024. She is the ﬁrst artist ever selected for the role.
On May 27, “Ebony Patterson: …things come to thrive…in the shedding…in the molting…” opens at the New York Botanical Garden. The exhibition will feature new sculptures, horticultural installations, and interventions with live plants. The site-speciﬁc works, “breathtaking and provocative displays of art and nature” are the result of a years-long engagement with the garden.
Patterson has conquered another milestone at the unique 250-acre venue—a National Historic Landmark and the largest garden in any U.S. city. The New York Botanical Garden described her as the “ﬁrst artist to embed within the institution for an immersive residency.” CT
Valentine, Victoria L. “In Recognition: Ebony G. Patterson’s Multifaceted Practice Taps Beauty of Botanical World to Start Conversations About Visibility, Violence, and Survival.” Culture Type. May 16, 2023. https://www.culturetype.com/2023/05/16/in-recognition-ebony-g-pattersons-multifaceted-practice-taps-beauty-of-botanical-world-to-start-conversations-about-visibility-violence-and-survival/