By Vee Sharp
On Saturday, Feb. 25, the RiverArts Education Center hosted Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience Arts and Exhibition Fellow and Board Vice President of the Kent Cultural Alliance Jason Patterson for a talk about the process and context surrounding his artwork.
Patterson’s work is largely focused on Black experiences and history, which he introduced by sharing his 2016 piece “Timeline,” a work that emphasized the role of the perception of time in relation to Black history.
The work consisted of three rolls of fabric, which represented the “three aspects of the African American condition,” according to Patterson: enslavement, the Jim Crow/apartheid period, and the Civil Rights movement. According to Patterson, each time period was represented by an inch of fabric per year. Enslavement was the longest piece.
This work, though an exemplification of the topics that Patterson addresses, is an outlier. He mostly creates portraits with dry pastels, emphasizing the roles of specific historical figures in African American history.
According to Patterson, these works consist mostly of three elements: portraiture, woodworking, and recreations of historical documents.
His portraits are usually recreations of historical photographs and paintings, with a focus on figures that have had some impact, positive or negative, on African American history. Patterson, for instance, portrayed former Washington College president William J. Rivers and former U.S. Senator George Vickers in the exhibit he put together for Chesapeake Heartland.
“[I want] to encourage the viewer to think about how we see two-dimensional images,” said Patterson.
As for woodworking, Patterson creates originally designed frames in which to house his portraits, a practice he started in 2012.
According to Patterson, he “wanted to make something different, something that looked like the nineteenth century” for his period pieces. Each frame that he builds is meant to give the idea of the aesthetic of the period that he is depicting; these designs are largely inspired by architecture.
Another aspect of Patterson’s work is the recreation of historical documents, which he will often put side by side with his portraiture. These include replicas of Washington Post panels, book pages, and legal documents. Patterson will print these designs onto paper that is already aged, and are usually blank pages taken from old books.
Above all else, Patterson’s goal is to inform the viewer, to put art and artifacts together to create a deeper context. According to Patterson, he believes that it is best to be direct and straightforward about history.
“This is what I want [the audience] to know, and they can think whatever they want,” Patterson said.
Patterson’s recent works are particularly interested in the self-sabotage that Americans engage with in order to hold Black people back, using former U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun as an example, who stated that he would sacrifice the United States’ independence to keep slavery.
“You’ll say you love this country, but you’ll sacrifice what we’ve decided on as a self-governed society to protect what you’ll believe in at other people’s expense,” said Patterson.
Patterson’s exhibit “On the Black History of Kent County and Washington College” can be found on the Chesapeake Heartlands digital archive.
Photo by Vee Sharp
Photo Caption: Jason Patterson’s work is on display at RiverArts.