Stein & Limits
GERTRUDE STEIN EVENTUALLY called her lecture Composition as Explanation, but as she worked through the repetitions and variations for the 1926 Cambridge Literary Club audience, "composition" proved the stuff not only of writing and painting but also of everyday life. "The composition is the thing seen by every one living in the living they are doing, they are the composing of the composition that at the time they are living in the composition of the time in which they are living," Stein submitted, and any neat "explanation" immediately atomized into restive self-examination:
Beginning again and again and again explaining composition and time is a natural thing ... Composition is not there, it is going to be there and we are here ... Just how much my work is known to you I do not know. I feel that perhaps it would be just as well to tell the whole of it ... It was all so nearly alike it must be different and it is different, it is natural that if everything is used and there is a continuous present and a beginning again and again if it is all so alike it must be simply different and everything simply different was the natural way of creating it then.
Patricia Patterson's performances over the past five decades, whether paintings, murals, or installations, landscapes or portraits, and however scrupulously, even radiantly observed, insist not on explanation but on sustaining only speculation and questions - her smart, resistant probes are, like Stein's, as much for the artist herself as about the world. Her panache at invoking the people, vistas, and interiors of the Aran Islands, which she first visited in 1960, returning often over subsequent decades, advances an unsettling mix of autobiography and ethnography, representation and high concept, as does her work based in Southern California, where she and her husband, painter and film critic Manny Farber, moved in 1970. Her performances, too, spring from a propulsive vision of daily life as itself inherently composed, as theatrical.
In her essay "aran kitchens, aran sweaters," Patterson identified the whitewashed slate-roofed houses of the "island women" as "their medium and arena for a lifetime," the rooms "dominated by a vivacity of language and dramatic physical gestures," particularly "their all-purpose kitchen, the chameleon-like hub of Aran life, which changes constantly with each chore, meal and ceremony." Any art that encompasses this diurnal action must be — like Stein's — formally dynamic. "I felt that I was presenting the Aran people, presenting the place, theatrically, as if the people in the paintings were characters in a play," Patterson told Robert Walsh during a 1989 conversation in Interview. She went on to document that pictorial play through a close scrutiny of a single painting, Pat with Cigarette and Yellow Jug:
...that has a lot of things I like: the colors glow and have a real presence; the wall has a quality of "wall"; Pat has the quality of himself, a vivid individual; his shirt has the quality of "shirt"... I don't mind that the hand with the cigar...