Urbana based artist Jason Patterson’s exhibits New Americans: Our Mutual Improvement & Social Elevation in the Dittmar Memorial Gallery located in Northwestern University’s Norris University Center. The exhibition is on view through May 11. The exhibition consists of tightly rendered contemporary portrait drawings based on19th century photographic tintype, Daguerreotype and ambrotype portraits of Africans.
Rather than constructing a comprehensive and accurate account of the African American experience where slavery is replaced legal oppression and a less than equal citizenship, Patterson’s intent is to offer an idealized history that embraces and glorifies a sense of positivism and optimism that briefly took hold in the black community following the Civil War as new Americans claimed personhood and gained a sense of self-worth.
Patterson’s tour-de-force in the exhibition consists of two full-length portrait drawings of standing women in black dress, holding white handkerchiefs. The drawings are based on carte-de-visites from circa 1870, a form of photography patented in Paris by André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri in 1854. These photographs are the size of a visiting card and became popular in the Victorian parlors of an emerging middle class. In effect, they became a status symbol and a must have for the upwardly mobile. Patterson drew these portraits in soft pastel on raw canvas, fixed the pastels, and subsequently applied a clear acrylic varnish. The frames for the drawings are constructed of pine and metal, and carry lines from Langston Hughes 1931 poem The Negro Mother.