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Art review: Richard Patterson, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London


This survey of YBA Richard Patterson’s career so far is bold, sensuous, and feels fresh rather than old hat recycled from the Freeze/Sensation years.

Patterson is a painter. He shares some of his subject matter with, say, the Chapman Brothers – toy figures, pornography, cartoons – but manages to endow it with a sense of life, rather than death.

Your Own Personal Jesus (1995/2011) is a large, intensely coloured painting. A toy figurine on a motorcycle speeds towards the viewer out of an abstract background. The figure himself is daubed in paint; his face is swathed in an impasto red that looks like a mask and obscures all his features. His chest is marked with a yellow cross.

Named after the Depeche Mode song, the work is testament to Patterson’s dazzling painterly skill and compositional power. While many of the YBA generation have churned out nihilistic bric-à-brac and snidely humorous kitsch, these paintings are alive.

Patterson, 49, who was born in Leatherhead, Surrey, but now lives in Dallas, Texas, participated in both Freeze (1988) and Sensation (1997). He graduated from Goldsmiths in 1986.

It is technical brilliance that distinguishes him from some of his peers, who have been viewed with suspicion by the general public and critics for their high-engrossing conceptualism, which appears to require minimal artistic input.

By contrast, works such as Road Agent (2005) are spectacular for their combination of photo-realist painting and abstraction – what Patterson calls “hyperabstraction.”

A figurine has been attacked with paint to the point of annihilating the contours of its body. The paint stands up in thick whips and complex, rippling folds. The background is a tequila sunrise orange that darkens towards the bottom into black. It is this ominousness that lends the works their drama.

Patterson’s process is pain-staking; he paints from photographs, but also uses collage and acetate to create a layering of effects.

The level of care is evident in Hoxton (2000), which is muted in colour and somehow evokes the fragile surface of porcelain in paint, and Christina With Green Necklace (2000), which is obviously indebted to Richter.

Tragically, four of Patterson’s paintings were destroyed in the 2004 Momart fire, including Motocrosser II (1995), which has been remade and renamed as Your Personal Jesus. He has said that the new version is different, perhaps better; it was impossible to truly recreate the original.

The painting is one of many stand-out works here.