Historic, but not famous

Clayton Patterson, artist, photographer, videographer, historian

Clayton Patterson (born 1948) is a Canadian-born artist, photographer, videographer, member of the No! Art movement and folk historian. He moved to New York City in 1979 and focused almost exclusively on documenting the art, life and times of the Lower East Side in Manhattan.

In 1972, his partner, Rensaa gave him his first camera and in 1980 he began photographing life in the Lower East Side of New York City. In 1985, Patterson began photographing kids from the neighborhood in front of his front door. Over the years, he has taken hundreds of photos, and displaying them on his “Hall of Fame” in his storefront window. As more photographs appeared in the window, more kids demanded their photo be taken in front the graffiti covered door.

Kids at the grafitti door for the “Hall of Fame”

His painting and drawing is heavily informed and influenced by tattoo and graffiti culture. Some of his large scale murals have appeared throughout the Lower East Side. From 1980-1982, Patterson’s work was shown in a number of downtown galleries. As Patterson grew disenchanted with the SoHo art world, he distanced himself from the traditional gallery scene and moved deeper into the underground scene of Lower East Side.

In 1983, Patterson and Rensaa bought a two-story former sewing factory and storefront at 161 Essex Street. In 1986 he converted the small storefront into an art gallery and Clayton Cap store. From 1986 to 2003, they showcased a variety of New York artists, writers, neighborhood personalities. The Clayton cap was the first baseball cap to have the embroidery all around the cap, and had the first signature and label on the outside of the cap. An embroidered signature on a repeated design, and a hand signed label for the custom one-of-a-kind designed caps.

A Clayton Cap

In August of 1988, Patterson began taping the Tompkins Square Park incident in full detail. He had come to the area with his video camera to get footage of a band performing at the Pyramid Club across the street from the park, but was pulled away by the police invasion of the park to remove the people living there. His footage from the night’s events (some 3+ hours) became instrumental in exposing police brutality in New York City that was often reported but never videotaped. As a result, the New York District Attorney ordered Patterson to surrender his tapes and camera. Patterson refused the order and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. After a 10-day hunger strike, Patterson’s lawyers negotiated a deal that would allow the city to get a copy of the tape while allowing Patterson the right to keep the original.

Patterson left NYC in 2014 leaving a legacy of over 1/2 million photos, hundreds of thousands of digital photos, thousands of hours of video tape in multiple formats and numerous artworks. You can learn more about him in the documentary Captured from 2008.

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