I can’t let the year end without taking note of a new coloring book — yes, a coloring book — titled Legends of the Lower East Side. It’s a collaboration of the artists Troy Harris, Orlando Bonilla and the unstoppable documentarian Clayton Patterson. The book features their confederates in nonconformity, artistry, community activism, and “colorfulness.” If the International Herbert Marcuse Society were to give a Great Refusal prize to honor colorful outsiders, Patterson should get it. Since there is no such prize, a coloring book will have to do.
I’ve written about Patterson before, the first time in connection with 326 Years of Hip, a group show of outsider artists Mary Beach, Taylor Mead, Boris Lurie, and Herbert Huncke, which Patterson produced and curated in 2005. I wrote about him again in connection with Lurie and the No!art movement. But that only scratched the surface of someone I think of as the opposite of what Marcuse called one-dimensional man.
Patterson — rightly dubbed a “docucontrarian” — has lived a multidimensional life of exemplary defiance and commitment. His record of arrests for antagonizing authority is by itself enough to put him in a category far above extraordinary. If you asked Patterson what he’s proudest of, however, he would probably point to the massive archive he has created with his partner Elsa Rensaa, who is also featured in the Legends coloring book.
Their archive documents the people, culture, and history of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and captures the neighborhood’s dramatic changes over the past three decades with hundreds of thousands of photographs, approximately 2,500 hours of video, and a unique collection of ephemera. Many of Patterson’s projects are a direct outgrowth of the huge amount of material he has gathered as a historical legacy, including a handful of books — Inside Out (1994), Wildstyle (2003), Captured (2005), Resistance (2007), Arabic Tattoos (2007), and the Front Door Book (2009) — all of them dedicated in one way or other to free expression.
Here’s an interview from 2010 with the man himself:
And here’s Elsa Rensaa, the “First Lady” of Legends of the Lower East Side: