Documentarian Clayton Patterson Leaving Lower East Side for Austrian Alps

Posted on: April 5th, 2014 at 8:37 am by
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The Lower East Side lost its rebel soul many moons ago, but now it’s saying goodbye to one of its biggest champions. Seriously, how many times have we been uttering end of an era these last few years…?

The New York Times now reports that Clayton Patterson, a fixture for 35 years, is retiring from the city. He’s leaving the neighborhood for the more artistically fruitful pastures of the Austrian Alps. Yes, seriously. Author Alan Feuer colors Patterson as the last local bohemian whose thirst for creativity is no longer sated by the Lower East Side.

No word yet on what might happen to his longtime home and gallery at 161 Essex Street.

Herewith, a few excerpts.

“There’s nothing left for me here,” said Mr. Patterson, who, at 65, is still a physical presence, with his biker’s beard, Santa Claus belly and mouth of gold teeth. “The energy is gone. My community is gone. I’m getting out. But the sad fact is: I didn’t really leave the Lower East Side. It left me.”

“The fact is, no one gave a damn about Taylor Mead,” he said, “and what it made me realize was just how vulnerable people in this city are — even well-known and well-loved people. I might think that I’m the king of the world, but the truth is there’s no appreciation here for what I do or what I’ve done.” Mr. Patterson was increasingly afraid of ending up like Mr. Mead: “Hocked up on the curb,” as he put it, “like a gob of bad meat.”

Last fall, two intruders broke into their home while Mr. Patterson was out, and although [his partner] Ms. Rensaa was not harmed, the experience scared her half to death. Mr. Patterson himself isn’t getting any younger — “I’m an overweight male,” he complained, “at the end of the road” — and so this winter, he decided it was high time to fashion an escape plan. He immediately thought of Bad Ischl, a spa town in Austria, where he has been involved with the Wildstyle tattoo and music festival for nearly 15 years.

There exists in Bad Ischl, Mr. Patterson contends, a creative community of artists, writers, tattoo designers and musicians that “is very much alive.” Then, too, he happens to be big in Austria — unlike in New York. “They love me over there,” he said. “They think of me as America’s No. 1 underground photographer.”

Then again, Mr. Patterson has reached that point in life when the youthful allure of being interesting has slowly given way in importance to the more mature comforts of belonging. Bad Ischl, on the River Traun, has a population of 14,000 people. “It’s a very small village — everybody knows everybody,” said Max Hirnböch, a tattoo artist there who met Mr. Patterson in 1995.

Bet the NYPD is glad he’ll be gone, especially after his tapes hurt many in their ranks following the Tomkins Square Park riots of 1988.

Be sure to read the whole article; worth it, for sure.

This image has been archived or removed.

Clayton Patterson during “slacktivist” protest on the Bowery, July 2008

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