Patricia Patterson is a figurative artist who records images of the rural life of Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. She showcases the domestic life of the island’s inhabitants and their homes. She renders the simple, whitewashed exteriors of their cottages and the colored walls and furnishings of their interiors. She paints the surrounding Irish landscape across broad canvases revealing stark panoramic vistas of natural beauty.
Patterson was born in Jersey City, N.J. and was a student at New York’s Parsons School of Design when she made her first trip to the Aran Islands in 1960. Patterson became intrigued with these islands after reading the poetry of William Butler Yeats and the plays of John Millington Synge. As a young student she lived on Inishmore and visited there a dozen times from 1960 to 1989.
In Inishmore there was no electricity at that time. The small homes were lit by candles and gas lamps. Women got their water from wells and used buckets to carry it into their homes. It was a land without trees, and Patterson found it extraordinary “to be surrounded by water and sky and this vastness.” She never idealized Inishmore but was fascinated by “the way beauty and harshness coexisted there.”
Patterson’s paintings have a casual immediacy of showing people in their everyday life. The scenes are ordinary and intimate as she paints people drinking, eating, or cooking as in “Nan in the Kitchen,” 1985 and “Mary at the Stove,” 1993. Her people minister to one another in rooms crowded with richly colored objects. She paints cows on a beach, haystacks, carts, and a man kneeling to pray. She layers sketchy, loose drawings over vibrant under-paintings. She creates contrasts between hot and cold colors with many of the matte fresco-like casein surfaces enhanced by glossy enamel frames.
Her first retrospective “Here and There, Back and Forth” 2011 was at the California Center for the Arts Museum in Escondido. She exhibited more than 60 paintings of the people and places of Inishmore. Almost every painting is either taller or wider than the average viewer. “The Bed” is more than 8 by 12 feet, and her panoramic landscape paintings can measure more than 12 feet in length. Her installations incorporated painted doors, windows, and furniture similar to those found on the island.
Patterson has had a varied career, writing collaboratively with her husband the film critic and painter Manny Farber. After 1975 she became a full-time Professor of Art at the University of California, San Diego. Her work has been exhibited in the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, the San Diego Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.