Howl Happening is presenting “Outside IN,” an exhibition of Lower East Side documentarian Clayton Patterson’s photography and art. The opening reception is Fri., June 19, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the gallery, at 6 E. First St., between the Bowery and Second Ave. The exhibition runs through Aug. 14. Also in the show will be paintings by Elsa Rensaa.
The opening will be streamed live for free at @howlarts.org .
“The exhibition goes beyond Patterson’s work as a documentarian to examine the full range of his artistic practice, including sculpture, photographs, fashion, and books, as well as paintings by his wife and life long collaborator, Elsa Rensaa,” a press release for the show notes.
Patterson has been documenting the neighborhood since he and Rensaa moved from Canada to New York in 1979. They briefly lived in Soho, whose art scene Patterson found to be all about money and status, before moving to the freer-feeling Lower East Side.
“Like the works of Jacob Riis and Weegee before him, his photos capture moments of real life as they’re happening, unglamorized and unromanticized,” the gallery notes. “The ‘Front Door’ photo-portraits on view at the gallery present a kind of mosaic of the neighborhood as it was, one face at a time: tenement kids and homeless people, poets and politicians, drug dealers and drag queens, rabbis and santeros, beat cops, graffiti writers, hookers, junkies, punks, anarchists, squatters, mystics and crackpots.”
Patterson refers to this project — in which he took photos of people in front of his Essex St. home’s front door — as “the people’s photography.”
Also in the show are sculptural cabinets crafted from artifacts Patterson found on the street. Toys, teeth, bullets and scraps of posters, postcards and other urban archeological detritus find their way into these sculptures painted in bright, pinball colors,
“As an artist, you have to use what life offers you,” Patterson said. “Making sculpture, taking photographs, writing, painting — it’s about remaining creative and following that path.”
Also on view are the distinctive Clayton Caps he and Rensaa manufactured.
In addition, as the old, outlaw Lower East Side recedes, Patterson has turned from documentarian to historian, organizing and editing massive, information-packed books on the neighborhood’s “tragic, glorious, sometimes depressing” history as remembered and explained by people who lived it and shaped it. These include “Captured,” on the neighborhood as an incubator for underground film and avant-garde video; “Resistance,” on its radical political and social history; and the self-explanatory “Jews: A People’s History of the Lower East Side.”
As the Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei said referring to Patterson, “His work is concerned with the truth, with facts. He has relentlessly devoted himself to a kind of culture that examines authority.”