DT500ZINE: – How was L.E.S. NYC at the time you came there?
CLAYTON: – My wife Elsa and I got to NYC in 1979. We lived in Brooklyn for 3 weeks and moved to 325 Broome Street. A tenement building with 4 floors with artists.The most well-known artist was Keith Haring– he lived above us. We were working as printers in a fine art print shop printing renowned artists works learning how to do photogravures, steel-facing and so on.
” Then I was starting to show it in ultra-hip SoHo.., one-man shows.., and so on. Hated it all. “
DT 500 MAG: – That’s why you moved to L.E.S.?
CLAYTON: – I moved to Lower East Side in 1983. On our first night looking out the window, we saw someone gets shot and killed. We had the clock drug dealings out front. But we loved the community, and I spent years documenting it, making art, and involved in different kinds of community activism.
Over the years Mr. Patterson has stored a massive archive that he estimates comprises hundreds of thousands of photographs, some 2,500 hours of videos and 300 audiotaped interviews, etc…
“It’s empirical history, immediate history,”
– Clayton explained.
“I go where my nose leads me. It’s a wealth of material, but it’s one guy’s view of it. The history of the Lower East Side is dense, multicultural and diverse. There are multiple layers of the community. You had Jews, Asians, Puertoricans, Dominicans, avant-garde filmmakers, tattoo parlors, the gay clubs, the art scene. It takes having documented all these different circles to get how they connected.”
DT500ZINE: – You own the chronicles about the Downtown neighborhood, is there any work you would front on the top?
CLAYTON: – Court cases officially granting the right that video belongs to me – the artist. Collages, The Black & White Designs, sculpture, and art that is still not understood… The archive.. so much is always under the radar… The rebellion aspect- so the 100’s of arrests… What was leading to the reorganization of the NYPD… I have many rare books… Clayton’s Caps… Handheld video footage… The Acker Awards… Masterpieces of L.E.S. original tattoo and its legalization story … The front door and window… MNN TV Shows… there is no top…
” At that time recognized professionals used high-end, expensive, professional equipment. The professional camera people usually had a lot of extra baggage: a sound and light person, many heavy batteries, a large recording device, and a heavy, metal body, shoulder carried a camera. My camera has a light made of plastic, good in low light, built-in mic, used 2-hour tapes and was an available consumer piece of equipment! It was the first time such a camera was used in this kind of way. “
Clayton was also noted by coming as a Guest Star to Jochen Auer’s Wildstyle and Tattoo Messe. Starting in the mid-1980’s the Tattoo Society of New York-nurtured much of the NYC underground tattoo scene. Imagine, in 1961 it became illegal to tattoo in NYC… It was near impossible to learn to tattoo in NYC, and there were just a few shops with books and magazines…
Clayton was also participating in Tattoo legalization in NYC. I´d like to note that during whole late 80’s and early 90’s next generation NYC tattoo wave came out directly from the underground Tattoo Society of New York. There were born tattoo-artists with big names like Sean Vazquez, Michelle Myles of Daredevil, Paul Booth, Anil Gupta, Wes Wood, Clayton adds:
” The Lower East Side was a crucible for creativity. Artists and intellectuals were drawn here because they could afford to live and create here. When Lou Reed moved here from Brooklyn in the ’60s, he rented an apartment on Ludlow Street for something like $38 a month. Now it’d be $3,000. I don’t think there’ll be anymore Lou Reeds on Ludlow Street. All of the geniuses who were here because of the cheap rents are gone.”
DT500ZINE: -What about your involvement in the NO!ART movement?
CLAYTON:- After The 1988 Police Riot video case- I was held in contempt of court because the NYPD wanted to get my original videotape, I refused to hand it over. I fired the lawyer the city gave me and went pro-se. I tried to speak for myself. Eventually went to State Supreme Court and I was handed a repeating 90-day sentence until I handed over the tape.
DT 500 MAG: – What was your position?
CLAYTON: – My position was: I am an artist, the tape is a part of my art, and my art belongs to me. I was sent to the Bronx House of Detention. I was under a system called Central Monitoring. I must have a ranking officer escort me everywhere. The only other prisoner at the time who was under this system was Larry Davis. He had shot 6 cops. I went on a hunger strike. Got Lynn Stewart, William Kunstler, and Ron Kuby as my lawyer. I won. It was after this that I met Boris Lurie. We had different politics but had a similar radical point of view relating to art.
DT 500 MAG: – What was your case?
CLAYTON: – Some of my court papers – One case was a federal one… dealing with an arrest, not mine, over a search at The Federal Building. Did one example with a college on the front. The government considered it a threat to the US Government. The judge agreed. Marshalls were sweet to arrest my friend at 4:30 in the AM, back in court I was told no more work on court papers. I handed in the next one saying you are wrong. Much of the imagery in this was from Boris’s NO!ART images. Boris Lurie in 1998 made me, as seen on the website, the head of NO!ART. West and Dietmar was the head of NO!ART East (Berlin). Boris and I argued about everything. But I loved Boris and Boris loved me.
Clayton explained in one of his interviews :
” Eventually I won my point, which was: – ” I am an artist, and that tape is one of my artworks, and it belongs to me.” Yes, they can have a copy. I had a point of view and a reason to fight. On the Oprah Winfrey show, I said: “Little brother watching Big Brother.” That was a big statement, and millions of people saw that. It meant that any individual with a camera (which can be a powerful weapon used to protect one’s democratic rights) can hold the authorities and the police accountable for their actions on the street! That was the beginning of a whole new digital age. “
By discovering more facts about the fighter Clayton Patterson, it´s also important to remember him involved in NO!ART movement. It was a radical avant-garde anti-art movement started in New York in 1959. Its founders sought to deliver a shock to the complacent consumerist society around them.
The movement was initiated by over-mentioned friend Boris Lurie as well Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher who had come together to organize exhibitions at the March Gallery NYC, first with the Vulgar Show in 1960. They gave the name NO!ART to the movement on the occasion of their show at the Gallery Gertrude Stein. They set themselves against the contemporary trends in Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art in art and used their work to attack fascism, racism, and imperialism in politics.
The NO!ART exhibitions bore titles such as the Doom Show, the Involvement Show, the No Show and the Vulgar Show. They were often scatological in theme with one display, the 1964 No Sculptures/Shit Show featuring works resembling piles of excrement. The Holocaust was another recurrent theme and the artists sometimes provocatively referred to their work as “Jew Art.”
In the essay named “Bull by the Horns” art critic Harold Rosenberg wrote:
“NO!ART reflects the mixture of crap and crime with which the mass media floods the mind of our time. It is Pop with venom added.”
DT500 ZINE: – What was the main agenda of NO!ART?
CLAYTON:- I believe agenda is still current. If I am still existing. And beyond that, I am not sure. Like no specific set of rules for shows I pick. I just come across what I come across I am going to shows. Far and few between.
DT 500 ZINE: – There were some radical people involved in NO!ART, what was your role in it?
CLAYTON: – This is a complicated question for me. I am not sure. After Boris died, I was engaged in many conflicts with The Group BLAF who took it over. I felt they had deviated from what Boris wanted and I undertook to get it straight. Many long aggressive engagements.
DT 500 MAG: – Do you remember your first NO!ART shows?
CLAYTON: – Some artists I have shown: Boris Lurie– I gave the first NO!ART show in 25 years in NYC. Boris, now, finally, is being recognized as one of the most radical artists to deal with the subject of the Holocaust, Dietmar Kirves head of NO!ART East, I was ahead of NO!ART West, Aronovici. There were graffiti: Dash Snow, Joey SEMZ (also music), and others in The IRAK graffiti crew- LA2 of Keith Haring fame- to illustrate how he got robbed by the sizeable corporate art world machine- Genesis Porridge – Baba Raul Canizares (written numerous books- ) – Mickey “The Pope Of Dope” Cezar – Jose “Cochise” Quiles president of Satan Sinner’s Nomads ( book- ” Street Gangs of the Lower East Side” ). Art Party Pravda with artists like Konstantin K Kuzminsky (The Russian Anarchist published “The Blue Lagoon Anthology of Modern Russian Poetry”) Oleg Pinchevsky, Alex Shnuroff, Alex Zakharoff and so on..
DT 500 MAG: – Anybody from tattoo crew?
CLAYTON: – Yes, tattoo: Thom Paul DeVita, Spider Webb, Charles Gatewood, and so on. I do remember Candy Darling’s drawings and diaries. Robert Lederman Giuliani shows Taylor Mead, Peter Missing, Merle Hazard (Peter Missing Show Water Wars was written about in New York Times by Colin Moynihan Heather MacDonald and took real exception to the fact that the NYT would write a positive piece on Peter Missing. Her claim was Peter’s symbol was such an anti-gentrification symbol and was used by so many anarchists to represent anti-gentrification during the years of turmoil on the Lower East Side.
DT 500 MAG: – What about Heather MacDonald?
CLAYTON: – She wrote this article for The Manhattan Journal, in which she was an editor- a part of The Manhattan Institute was formed by William Casey when he retired from being the head of the CIA. Her article also appeared in The New York Sun. A short-lived right-wing paper. Only show I had that the CIA was engaged in. Did have the New York Police Department try to set me with Rakowitz (labeled by the press as Monster of Tomkins Square Cannibal case). And so on.
DT 500 ZINE: – Let’s talk about your own gallery, what is the concept of your Gallery & Outlaw Art Museum?
CLAYTON: – The basic idea behind the gallery was dealing with art that was outside the mainstream. Often art that dealt with issues related to the law. Did not have to be criminal. For example, art that had court cases attached to it – I had some court cases related to my work – mostly video or broke the law for instance tattooing was illegal in NYC since 1961, I showed work related to tattooing, graffiti art or conceptual art pieces related to drugs. Mainly work that questioned authority or job that was just unusual.
After nearly 10 years of being closed to the public, the Gallery was opening its doors again with the same dynamic team who brought the $16 Burger Show, this first show was displaying first Caps and artwork from Patterson’s extensive archive. The storefront was showcasing the early 10 designs from the Clayton Cap Reissue project as well as original patches, books, and prints.
The first culminating in May 2014, The $16 Burger Show was, in a sense, a reversal of this nature; not so much a return to one’s roots, as much as the origins reclaiming their own. The name $16 Burger Show was an ironic pitch of overpriced living standard of nowadays Manhattan.
DT 500 ZINE: – Which work of yours could tell the most of the rebel times?
CLAYTON: – The Caps kept Elsa and me alive for a time – the Caps became my art. I documented the neighborhood this is my art. Like the videotape- the tape is my art – and my art belongs to me. Same argument. I do not care that the establishment would not consider the Caps Art. My choice, not theirs. MY life, not theirs. My rules, not theirs.
” I have always been an Outsider. Never fit in. My work is me, and I am it. My life is art, and my art is my life. It did take time for me to become “I”- Clayton. I did what I had to do to survive at the time. I am not a sculpture, a painter, a photographer, I am me – an artist.”
” Don’t Forget the Struggle Don’t Forget the Streets.”
DT 500 ZINE: – I have heard about your “save NYC” open call, how is it going?
CLAYTON:- I am not going to save NYC. I can only do my part in preserving what I have which shows what was happening in the past, the past that I was involved in. Just my role and my journey. Hopefully, my point of view is educational and illuminating to others and helpful to those who are interested. For me, my duty to myself and Elsa is to find a way to survive and to become compatible with some of what is going on. I cannot just be against everything. I have to find a place for myself. I must carry on for both Elsa and I and the people who believe in what I do. I need to continue being creative. I need to believe in tomorrow and that what I am doing is important.
DT 500 ZINE:- What is essential in a community?
CLAYTON:- Bad end of the working class- a sense of us against the world…
” If you stop the possible emergence of a Jackson Pollock or a Jimi Hendrix, you’re killing the future. They came from the ground up. They didn’t come from the top. The top doesn’t tend to produce great stuff. So to answer your question, it is not me who is killing the American Dream. It is the take-over by major international corporations. I differ from the people in power who say corporations are people. Corporations are not people. “
DT 500 MAG: – The vast, hard-working American Nation had voted at the end of 2016 and against all the odds Mr. Trump will be inaugurated on the 20th of January for good or for bad? What is on your mind, Trump vs. future?
CLAYTON: – Trump showed how dysfunctional, corrupt, incompetent, lazy, politicians and the media are today and how out of touch they are with the American people. And even now, after the election, the politicians and the media still does not understand the pain and suffering that is going on in the States. The death of the middle-class and the brutalities of the poor are only two glaring examples. After Obama and now Trump, who both represented change and how much hurt, dissatisfaction Americans have towards the system, add in Bernie, and we have to understand these are dangerous times. Something negative is bound to happen. Especially after people realize Trump is only selling a dream and has no desire to fulfill his promises. Hang on, I just hope the ride is not too rough.
DT 500 MAG: – Thank you Clayton, our highest honor to have your expert meaning on our project. Kindly regards from all in the Downtown 500 crew! #Rapture!
” What a man can be, he/she must be.”
Clayton clearly notes:
” The small independent restaurants and coffee shops is where the energy got generated, and ideas came together. Like when you are creating the magazine, you don’t do it by yourself – there is a bunch of people talking: let’s make a magazine! How can we make a magazine? Oh, I don’t know, you do this, and I’ll do that. Oh, I found a printer, oh I can write, this guy takes pictures – it’s energy, it’s not from the rich people, or intellectuals, it’s from the bottom, the ideas and the pushing and the turning… And that’s where the greatness comes from. Otherwise, the magazine wouldn’t be there. “
Still today Clayton is working in his community by supporting the young generation of Downtown Manhattan. This time Clayton does curation for a young band named DAMEHT. Mr. Patterson stands for DAMEHT as Andy Warhol did for the Velvet Underground. Clayton behaves as an artistic ringleader, his work and experience is the true foundation for this upcoming band to build its brand upon. Lou Reed with band members haunted Warhol’s Factory throughout the ’60s, DAMEHT’s Rivington Starchild, Roman Lewis, and Lucas Garzoli all center today on Patterson’s longtime Lower East Side home, The Clayton Gallery & Outlaw Art Museum.
DAMEHT guys about Clayton:
“He embodied in his work what a lot of people strive – to be themselves even in hard times – as an oppressive force behind him which tried to push him out from remaining true to himself.”
Interview by Arthur Sopin
Photography by Clayton Patterson, Johnny De Guzman
Special thanks to Andreas Roed, Liz Cornine, Justin Moran, Jorge Liloy, Solva