Clayton Patterson Leaves NYC
The discussion of NYC's gentrification is nothing new, but it still stings every time I learn of another institution of art, music & grit close its door to make way for mega-store or "luxury" anything. One living institution, who has had a profound effect on NYC's tattoo scene, is documentarian, fine artist and tattoo artist Clayton Patterson. And, as the NY Times reported this weekend, Clayton will be shutting his Outlaw Art Museum and leaving NY's Lower East Side with his wife Elsa Rensaa, explaining, "There's nothing left for me here."
In a time where our own tattoo community feels gentrified -- complete with "celebrity" tattooers working in glass cages -- it's understandable why Clayton and Elsa are leaving town and heading for Bad Ischl, in Austria, where, for almost 15 years, he has collaborated with the Wildstyle Tattoo Convention.
Wildstyle is one of the many projects Clayton has worked on for tattoo artists and collectors. In 1986, Clayton and Ari Roussimoff started the Tattoo Society of New York (TSNY), with the assistance of Elsa, and the group was instrumental in working to overturn the NYC tattoo ban in 1997. When asked by Vice, what about the role of TSNY, he explained:
It was difficult to learn to tattoo in the city, but the TSNY changed much of that. Those interested in art and tattooing gathered at the Society meetings. The whole 1990s New York City new wave came out of the TSNY. The magazines came to the Society meetings. It is through the Society that Debby Ullman, who had worked at Outlaw Biker and Tattoo Review, moved over to Pat Rusians of Pink Coyote Designs, who was looking for an editor to start a new magazine. I introduced her to Jonathan Shaw, and they started, International Tattoo Magazine. At that time there were not that many photographers on the tattoo scene. Early on, there was Charles Gatewood. Then Steve Bonge started taking photos in the mid 70s. He was instrumental in getting photos of tattoos into Biker magazine. He became the lead photographer for International Tattoo.
When, in 1998, Steve Bonge and his partners, Lawrence Garcia and Wes Wood (Wes was a partner for the first year) created the New York City International Tattoo Convention, Clayton came on as an organizer and manager of the show, making it one of the iconic tattoo events worldwide.
Beyond the tattoo community, Clayton is renowned for documenting the culture of the Lower East Side since the late seventies, particularly the Tompkins Square Park Police Riot. One of Clayton's most well known work is his Captured film.
The NY Times offers more on his background documenting this scene:
Almost from the moment he arrived from Calgary, Alberta, in 1979, Mr. Patterson's world has been the downtown demimonde of squatters, anarchists, graffiti taggers, tattoo artists, junkie poets, leathered rock 'n' rollers and Santeria priests. When he and his companion, Elsa Rensaa -- she, too, is an artist -- landed in New York, they took an apartment on the Bowery where their $450 monthly rent was paid by their jobs producing commercial art prints, and where one of their neighbors was the not-yet-famous painter Keith Haring.Four years later, the couple bought the building where they live today -- once a dressmaker's shop, at 161 Essex Street -- at a time when Art in America magazine described the neighborhood as a "blend of poverty, punk rock, drugs, arson, Hell's Angels, winos, prostitutes and dilapidated housing." This was the culture that Mr. Patterson seized as his subject, wandering the area on endless expeditions with his camera and gradually acquiring an archive of ephemera that grew to include graffiti stickers, concert posters, images of tattoos, thousands of hours of audiotape and videotape and empty heroin bags he had picked up off the streets.Clayton's collection of photos and several ink-on-paper prints, as well as Elsa's paintings, will be on view in a pop-up gallery in NYC's Meatpacking district (58-60 9th Avenue, off West 15th Street), opening next week, April 15th. The show entitled, "$16 Burger" (Clayton's taunt of the price of this city's food), will be a fitting send-off for such a force in the tattoo and art world.