I was privileged to hang out with Richard Patterson last week when he visited the University of North Dakota. Rich is a UND alumnus, but prior to his time here in Grand Forks, he was one of the leading lights in the New York City graffiti underworld where he went by Rich2, Provide133, and others. It was fantastic to watch him work and talk at length about the process of creating graffiti in New York in the late 1970s and 1980s.
One of the most striking aspects of our conversations was the process of graffiti production in New York. Far from being a spontaneous work of creativity (or a crime of opportunistic vandalism), graffiti art was carefully planned and choreographed. The process of planning the art was as much, if not more important, than its actual execution. Major works were always done in teams of painters who regularly worked together and sought to exert influence over particular train lines or sections of town.
A key element in painting was the acquisition of paint. The various types of high quality paints that were preferred by graffiti painters were often hard to find in their own neighborhoods. Consequently, they had to go to New Jersey or more affluent areas to get these paints. This could involve trips to multiple locations in search of particular brands and colors needed to make their work distinct. The distinct colors in the art work, then, represented the time, energy, and inventiveness of a particular group of painters.
Another fascinating element of graffiti art that Rich and I discussed was its gradual emergence in mainstream consciousness. He talked about preparing canvasses for the likes of Andy Warhol and Keith Haring and, in retrospect, how they felt exploited by these figures in the art world. Today, of course, graffiti artists have become increasingly clever at promoting and selling their own art, but in the 1970s and 1980s, Rich talked about how their art represented a call for recognition and access to opportunities. Rich and many of the early artists who contributed so much to establishing the artistic cannon for graffiti art were never able to reap any long term benefits of their work.
Despite these disappointments, Rich found other ways to make opportunities for himself. After playing professional basketball in Europe and Asia, he returned to school here at the University of North Dakota where he earned both a B.A. and an M.Ed. He currently teaches in North Carolina and paints only occasionally spending most of his time talking to kids about how to get their lives on track through hard work and discipline.
I was lucky enough to catch him at a moment of weakness and he produce this canvas for my new office. Called "Archaeological Dig", it's done in hand style and captures (only a tiny bit) of the vitality and dynamism that Rich Patterson brings to his art.