When I wake up in the morning, the first thing that “bless my eyes” (as Bob Marley said) is a burst of color. It is a small painting on our bedroom wall of a magical landscape, which I think of as something, perhaps, from “The Wizard of Oz.” When the film turns into that dazzling Technicolor, and Judy Garland starts skipping. Scarlet and gold and magenta flowers dance across the canvas, fringed by dainty, straight-trunked trees on the horizon. Above, the sky is a misty blue.
The painting is by our dear Jamaican friend and artist Rudi Patterson, who passed away at a London hospice on July 24.
This post is very hard to write. A warmth and brilliance has gone from us. Sitting at the computer, I share space with another painting by Rudi. It is an irregular series of vertical lines in irresistibly bright colors. We brought it back with us when we last visited Rudi in his flat in West London in September of last year. He had expressed amused surprise that this style had proved popular with those who bought his paintings. After every visit to London, we returned with a little of Rudi – whether it was a painting, or a ceramic piece (something he learned in later years). I often fill a beautifully lop-sided, pale blue bowl of Rudi’s with bright bougainvillea and place it on our back verandah. I will do so today.
Rudi always enjoyed gifts from home (Jamaica was always home). Blue Mountain coffee, a bottle of Appleton’s. And he adored mango, ackees, breadfruit; he could buy all these in London markets. Born in deep rural St. Thomas, many of Rudi’s paintings reflect his love for the chaotic, colorful natural world around him. I remember him telling us some duppy stories – duppies that he said he saw at dusk, walking down those Jamaican country lanes. He painted chunky mango trees laden with fruit, fringed palm trees, stripy croton plants, and zinc-roofed houses with shutters. Rural domestic bliss. One of our most treasured paintings is of our Kingston home, which he painted while staying with us in 1991. Our house is tucked inside our flourishing garden (and yes, we did have a small breadfruit tree at the time). It reminds me of Rudi out in our front yard one day, neatly clipping an unruly hedge.
And Rudi’s paintings brought joy. Rudi was a celebrity, and many celebrities owned his work – including the late Freddie Mercury, who commissioned a huge painting from him and owned several others. Rudi personally knew Maya Angelou, Ashford and Simpson, the iconic 60s model Twiggy, Andy Williams and many others who bought his paintings. As a young man, an actor and a fashion model, he moved in those circles. I wish we had known him then, as a young man about town. Rudi was always the greatest fun, the person you wanted to be with. It was actually the inactivity brought about by a serious accident (he broke his neck in 1973) that brought him to painting.
In Jamaica, Rudi’s paintings were exhibited several times at Harmony Hall in Ocho Rios. He became good friends with the Proudlocks, who have run the art gallery for many years. Our son will probably remember, when he was quite young, Rudi taking him to visit the Jamaican/Australian artist Colin Garland, who lived in Boscobel, nearby.
When did we meet Rudi? Introduced by our artist friends Margaret and Mike Stanley, my husband and I attended an exhibition of his work in London. It was when we had only just met each other, close to thirty years ago now. I associate Rudi very closely with our life together – long lunches in London, glasses of wine, music, and much laughter. And a few years later we left the UK for Jamaica; but we always kept in touch.
Rudi had a beloved cat called Ackee; he missed him greatly when he died. He loved “chill out” music and introduced us to the Cafe Del Mar series. He often gave us music, and supported many Caribbean singers and musicians who lived in London.
Rudi’s flat in Westbourne Park was easy to find – an oasis of color in the London landscape. On the dull grey concrete of the balcony, even on a chilly winter’s day, there were overflowing pots of bright geraniums outside his door. His living room walls were covered with bright paintings. A large picture window embraced a wide cityscape: rooftops and streets, a train line. Last year, we talked about the dome of a new mosque that had appeared since our previous visit. I will always remember Rudi’s view of a city he grew to love.
Like his art, Rudi was never dull and dreary. I can hear his gentle, but ironic laugh – his sense of humor was of the dry variety, and very “Jamaican.” He spoke in a laconic drawl. We enjoyed our regular phone calls with him. I had to sit down on the sofa to talk to him on the phone, to laugh and gossip and share news (Rudi loved to gossip, but never maliciously).
The first painting of Rudi’s that we acquired was of a small country house at night. An orange light burns in the window. Rudi’s light will shine on. And it’s only goodbye, for now.
Until we meet again.
There is a lovely obituary for Rudi by the Black Cultural Archives here: http://www.bcaheritage.org.uk/obituary-to-rudi-patterson/. His funeral will take place on Friday, August 9 at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Chapel, St Mary’s RC Cemetery, Harrow Road, London W10. All are welcome.