Ebony G. Patterson: ...to kiss a flower goodbye...
‘Beneath all of the layers, beneath the pattern, beneath the shine, beneath the embellishment, sits an uneasy question. The question is whether or not you choose to look.’ 1
Ebony G. Patterson, 2020
Hales is delighted to present …to kiss a flower goodbye…, Ebony G. Patterson’s second solo show with the gallery. The exhibition features a series of new large-scale embellished tapestries and mixed media paper collages, that extend her ongoing exploration of the garden as a space freighted with metaphorical significance, of beauty and life as well as violence and loss.
Patterson is known for her lushly ornamented works spanning a range of media, from photography and video to tapestry and sculpture. Hers is a language of beauty and excess: layers of abstract colour, pattern, and texture interwoven with figurative and textual elements, resulting in dense two and three-dimensional images that can be intentionally difficult to parse. Through these visually seductive objects, Patterson conducts an inquiry into the activity of looking in art: asking what it takes to see past the superficial and to properly confront the nature of our shared reality. For the artist, whose work confronts histories of racial and gendered violence, this is a question not just with aesthetic but also with ethical and political implications.
Over the past five years, Patterson has regularly returned to the garden as a locus to explore this question. ‘The garden is a larger metaphor for postcolonial states,’ she has said. ‘All this beauty conceals trauma and violence.’2 The carefully cultivated surface disguises the invisible labour required to maintain it. It seems with vitality but equally with death and reminders of life’s fleeting nature. It is also shot through with religious symbolism – from the Garden of Eden, where paradise was lost forever, to Mary Magdalene’s encounter at Christ's garden tomb. With its poetic title, …to kiss a flower goodbye… invokes this sense of loss within nature.
Patterson has transformed the gallery into a night garden, lining the space with custom-designed dark wallpaper, which serves as a backdrop for wall-based installations bursting with flora and fauna. Disguised among these plants – spiders, cockroaches, headless snakes, monarch butterflies, a single raven – are the fragmented figures of Black women in lament. Although Patterson has been exploring the representation of mourning and its intersection with race and gender for many years, the experience of the pandemic and successive lockdowns – during which she was unable to return from the States to visit her family in her home country of Jamaica – has deepened the artist’s personal connection to the subject.
The works in …to kiss a flower goodbye… are even denser and more detailed than previous work, reflecting the enrichment of the artist’s visual and linguistic vocabulary on loss. The process of their production is multilayered: first, Patterson shoots and edits photographs, which are then either digitally printed or worked into tapestry, before she begins the laborious task of décollage, collage and embellishment. Ornamental features – glitter, strings of beads, appliquéd fabrics – are affixed to the textured surface, a beauty trap that Patterson sets for the viewer. This intensive process reflects the labour of mourning and loss. Finally, Patterson selects the titles of the works: lyrical and evocative phrases stitched together with ellipses and wordplay reflecting the artist’s fascination with gaps in and dualities of meaning (…in the swallowing…she carries the whole…the hole..., 2021–22.)
In the continued deepening in Patterson’s practice, words also appear on the surface of one of the embellished works: the collage diptych …pink…red…striped…carnations (2021–22). Clearly visible are the cut-out letters that spell out ‘forever...’ and ‘in waiting....’ – an acknowledgement of the role of the mourner, the pain of bearing witness. Less immediately apparent are the glittered outlines of the words ‘love u,’ a phrase that recalls the tender words inscribed on headstones and wreaths – a reminder that although we often think of mourning in terms of absence it also indicates the presence of love. Amid the suffering and darkness, here is a glimmer of life and hope.
Ebony G. Patterson studied a BFA in painting at Edna Manley College, Kingston, Jamaica (2004) before completing an MFA at Sam Fox College, Washington University in St. Louis, MO (2006). The artist lives and works in Kingston, Jamaica and Chicago, IL, USA. Patterson’s first major survey exhibition, …while the dew is still on the roses…, opened at Pérez Art Museum Miami in 2018; then toured to Speed Art Museum, Louisville (2019); and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC (2020). She has had solo exhibitions at institutions including ICA San José (2021), Contemporary Art Museum St Louis (2020–21), Kunsthal Aarhus (2020–21), Baltimore Museum of Art (2019); The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2016); Atlanta Center for Contemporary Art (2016); and SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah (2016). Her work has been included in many exhibitions, including the Liverpool Biennial (2021), the Athens Biennale (2021), Open Spaces Kansas City (2018), the São Paulo Bienal (2016); the Havana Biennial (2015); Prospect.3: Notes for Now, New Orleans (2014), and the Jamaica Biennial (2014). Forthcoming solo projects include exhibitions at the New Orleans Museum of Art and the New York Botanical Garden. Patterson’s work is in the public collections of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Brooklyn Museum; Art Gallery of Ontario; The Studio Museum in Harlem; Museum of Arts and Design, New York; Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC; Speed Art Museum, Louisville; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; the National Gallery of Jamaica; 21c Museum and Foundation, Louisville; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Pérez Art Museum Miami; and The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among others.
 Nasher Museum (March 25, 2020), ‘Ebony G. Patterson … while the dew is still on the roses…’ [online video] https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=77DrnFrqnmc [accessed April 21, 2022]
 Ebony G. Patterson interviewed by Lovia Gyarkye (May 21, 2021), ‘A Deceptively Beautiful Tapestry About Mourning’, New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/21/t-magazine/ebony-patterson-arttapestry.html [accessed April 21, 2022]