Cocktails With… Ebony G Patterson

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An interview with Kenyon Hemans for Jamaica’s Observer.

Renowned for her signature installations that examine masculinity and its relationship to identity and culture, Ebony G Patterson’s thought-provoking work has been featured on the television series Empire as well as influential museums and galleries on the international circuit. The award-winning multimedia artist is our assured ‘partner in crime’ this week as we weigh in on issues and ideas related to her chosen field.

Favourite cocktail?

I don’t really drink, but I don’t mind a cold Smirnoff Black Ice, from time to time.

What do you consider The Rock’s most priceless work of public art?

I don’t know about the use of the term ‘priceless’. And we don’t have that very many public works of art. However, I would say that the installation

Paradise by the Bahamian artist Blue Curry, during the 2014 Jamaica Biennial hosted by the National Gallery of Jamaica, was quite poignant.

The value of a piece, and arguably its artist, should be appraised along what lines and against what yardstick?

Well, work can only have value if the artist continues to practise. That value also changes based on critical mass. This would produce a proliferation of exhibitions around the artist’s work group or solos as well as written critical discourse on the work of said artist.

In 2016, has the notion of the ‘starving artist’ taken on new dimensions?

The notion of the ‘starving artist’ died long before 2016, long before this millennium. I cannot deny that a career in the arts doesn’t have its challenges, but all fields do, to be honest. One just has to commit and truly work hard. Never be afraid to work even harder, seek opportunities, push yourself, and find rewards and pleasure in working. You won’t starve if it’s something you really want to do.

Is ‘art school’ an oxymoron? And what, if any, is there to be gained within an academic curriculum? 

Art school is like any educational venue. It provides discipline, structure, context, content and resources. And, by resources I don’t mean infrastructure, but teachers, people who have already chosen this path you want to take. You will have endless opportunity to engage and to query. These people will challenge you continually, pushing you past what you thought you were capable of. But like everything else, for art school to be worthwhile, one has to commit. 

Can real truth be accessed through the endeavour of art criticism?

Nothing can grow without critical discourse. Neither can you as an artist or as a person, if you are not engaging critically. One has to just remember that critical dialogue is not about you; it’s about the work; it’s not personal.

Is ‘selling out’ an unfair indictment against artists, who are simply trying to make a buck?

Engaging in commercial ventures does not mean your integrity is checked at the door, as even these platforms can be viable ways of engaging larger demographics. The real question is, ‘what are you doing?’ If you are selling the work short, then you are selling yourself short. Would you be proud of that? 

How can a personal art collector gain financial returns from his/her investment? 

If you are buying work simply to bank, then I have a real problem with that. You should buy work because you think it is something worth having; a belief that the continued engagement with that work will enrich your life. We all know that art can be incredibly lucrative, but as an artist, I couldn’t advise someone to buy just to turn a few dollars. Works are not just records of existence and culture, but of people. If that’s all you are interested in, then you are cheapening your experience, and in that case, you should look to animal husbandry.

Was identifying as an artist a seamless transition during your formative years?

Yes! I knew since the age of eight that this is what I wanted to do with my life. I had great teachers from Holy Childhood Preparatory School’s Miss Allen, Convent of Mercy’s Ian Stone, The Queen’s School’s Dennis Souza, and Tarrant High School’s Mr Hobbins, Edna Manley College of the Visual & Performing Arts Cecil Cooper, Stanford Watson, Natalie Butler, Prudence Lovell, and Petrona Morrison, who encouraged my artistic side. My parents Thelma Ferguson and Oscar Patterson dared to allow me to follow this course even though they had no clue about being an artist. 

To date, what has been your most defining moment?

Realising my dream of becoming an artist. It has taken me on some interesting journeys and I am incredibly grateful.

In a parallel universe, Ebony G Patterson would have been a …?

…Singer. Anyone who went to high school with me would know this part of me very well.

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