“Clayton Patterson Outside In” at HOWL! Arts Through Aug. 14

Photos by Jason Wyche.

Photos by Jason Wyche.

At HOWL! Happening, the new not-for-profit gallery at 6 East 1st St., there’s an interesting retrospective featuring the works of longtime Lower East Side artists Clayton Patterson and Elsa Rensaa. “Clayton Patterson Outside In” will be on display through August 14.

The exhibit goes beyond his familiar documentary work, showcasing sculpture, fashion and books, alongside paintings by Resnaa, Patterson’s wife and collaborator. From the press materials:

Widely known for his immense archive of life on the Lower East Side—hundreds of thousands of photographs, interviews, countless hours of film and video footage—the current exhibition points to the democratic nature and true intention of the artist: to use whatever tools necessary, whatever medium is at hand, to traverse art and activism to create a singular artistic vision of the people, place, social action, and creativity of the neighborhood. When Patterson and Rensaa moved to the Lower East Side from Canada in 1979, he began to document the neighborhood in photographs, video and audiotape, and collected ephemera. “I didn’t realize it at the time,” he would tell the New York Times some thirty years later, “but I was capturing the last of the wild, free, outlaw, utopian, visionary spirit of the Lower East Side.” … The Front Door photo-portraits on view at the gallery present a kind of mosaic of the neighborhood as it was, one face at a time: tenement kids and homeless people, poets and politicians, drug dealers and drag queens, rabbis and santeros, beat cops, graffiti writers, hookers, junkies, punks, anarchists, squatters, mystics and crackpots. Patterson refers to this project as “the people’s photography,” a phrase that captures the quality of mutuality and commonality. Similarly, the elegant sculptural cabinets in the show are crafted from artifacts found on the street—a “critique of the critique” about outsider/insider and taste in contemporary art. Toys, teeth, bullets, and scraps of posters, postcards and other urban archeological detritus find their way into these sculptures painted in bright, pinball colors, “As an artist, you have to use what life offers you,” he says. “Making sculpture, taking photographs, writing, painting—it’s about remaining creative and following that path.

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HOWL! Arts is dedicated to preserving the artistic past of the East Village and Lower East Side and celebrating the neighborhood’s creative vitality today. The gallery, which opened earlier this year, aims to protect the archives of this community’s artists and to stage contemporary exhibitions. Ted Riederer is gallery director. The space is open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday.