Visual Arts

Arts Preview: Visual artist Ebony Patterson

There's a time in every artist's life when the struggle of becoming happens, because let's face it: being a visual artist is hard. First off, to be an artist takes time, skill and money. And, you must have motivation. Being in a show doesn't just fall into an artist's lap; you have to get out there, apply to everything, move your artwork around and make people recognize you.

Then, you can become known. Regionally, nationally, internationally — these are the words that say you've been there, done that and stood on your own as a successful artist.

Ebony Patterson is a successful artist. But don't ask her about it.

"I'm not concerned with 'making it' as an artist," she says, laughing. It's not "whether or not a piece will sell, but when am I getting paid so I can go get more materials?"

A recent addition to the University of Kentucky fine arts faculty, Patterson earns a regular paycheck as an assistant professor of painting, a position that not only affords her the opportunity to influence younger artists, but gives her the freedom to pursue her own art career.

The fine arts have been part of her life from the beginning. Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Patterson found early encouragement in her parents in performing and visual arts.

"My parents set up an environment to engage in art," Patterson says. "I was always involved in the performing arts: school plays and theater, ballet. When I was 9, I made the conscious decision to be an artist."

As childhood evolved to adulthood, the struggle began. "In high school, they laughed at me," she says. "My aunt said, 'You'll never make money till you die.' They were surprised I chose art, not as a profession, but a way of life."

But with her acceptance to the Caribbean's only English-speaking arts school, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, and her selection for a scholarship/residency program in England, Patterson's family realized the possibilities that art afforded their daughter.

"Traveling is a huge thing in Jamaica," says Patterson, who is in her late 20s. "You've made it off the island! People at home think I've made it. I'm well- respected and have collectors."

Patterson's work, which includes painting, printmaking, mixed media and new media including video, focuses on notions of identity and issues with the body, in a Jamaican context.

"I'll never have an American perspective," says Patterson, who arrived in the United States in 2004. Her homeland will always define her, she says, and "if classes were out tomorrow, I'd be in Jamaica."

Those ties to home not only characterize her personally but provide motivation for an international catalogue of exhibitions.

"There's a saying: Dance at home before you dance abroad," she says. "There's not much interest (in the art world) in the English-speaking Caribbean. As a student, I made sure I was involved in anything. Being here, it's a way to get in touch with a huge audience."

And she's not wasting time. In the past year alone, Patterson was featured in exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum, the NEXT art fair in Chicago, and at galleries in Lexington, Louisville, California and Jamaica.

Locally, a joint exhibit with Patterson and Oneika Russell, Mi Did Deh Deh, is scheduled to open at Transylvania University's Morlan Gallery in January. And Patterson has curated the show Taboo Identities: Race, Sexuality + The Body — A Jamaican Context, which runs Oct. 16 to Nov. 16 at the UK Tuska Center for Contemporary Art.

"I like to think of myself as a disciplined artist," she says. "I'm hard on myself and on my students. I have a responsibility to show my art — what's the point of putting it in the back room?

"I'm in a bigger pond now with a lot more fish. I'm not concerned with 'making it,' but with making art."

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