Strabane Artist Sticks Out From the Crowd

Made entirely of black tape, Tyrone Patterson's ethereal wall figures are turning heads and stirring imaginations at the Alley Theatre

Strabane's Alley Theatre recently saw the opening of Mericepel V, the fifth instalment in an ongoing series of works by 30-year old artist Tyrone Patterson.

On display until August 19, the collective piece comprises dreamlike landscapes and characters painstakingly created using only black PVC tape, the pitch-dark colour palette a product of both the catalyst behind the work and its shadowy narrative undercurrent. It's particularly potent at a time when comic book dystopias and phantasmic supervillains are morphing into life on cinema screens on what seems like a weekly basis.

We caught up with Tyrone to try and unroll his story so far and piece together his current exhibition.

Can you give us a bit of background about yourself?

Tyrone: My name is Tyrone Patterson, I am 30 years old and currently living and working in Derry. I was born in Strabane and have lived in just about every corner of it. After a few years of attending the ND and HND courses of Fine Art at the North West Regional College I moved to Liverpool to further my art education in John Moore's University. I spent three years there before returning to live in Belfast. I started working for Jessops there for a few years before receiving a transfer to the Derry store so I could be closer to home. I remained there until the business closed down.

My years working there were very beneficial to me because I learned a lot about cameras and film development. Soon after, I started working for Timpson in Foyleside, a great company with a very unique approach to business. They provide lots of services such as shoe repairs, key cutting and watch repairs, so I'm always busy. Also I have a dog named Ripley and she is an absolute beautiful nightmare.

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When did you first start designing and creating art?

I first starting drawing and focusing on art when I was about 10. It started with old sci-fi book covers – I always loved the weird monsters and misshapen creatures they would depict, so I would try to copy the pictures. Then I started to read comic books and became obsessed, I would be drawing pictures of superheroes for years after and recently I started to go back to this idea.

Where did the idea (and the name) for Mericepel come from?

The idea stems from something called synesthesia, it's a neurological phenomenon where some senses can trigger others. A colour could generate a specific taste or shape for example. I have a slight version of this with music and sounds. A lot of music generates patterns and lines in my head, like a visual description of music. So the curved and straight interweaving lines and rippling patterns is how I see music sometimes.

When I made the first 'Mericepel' (the current one being the fifth), it started with mostly lines with a few small images and shapes in the tape, it was only when I made it the second time that I started to add a sort of narrative to the concept. The word itself is made up. I like creating words and splicing words together and Mericepel was one I really liked that seemed to fit well on the work.

Can you describe the work and how you went about creating each element of it? How long did it take you?

The work is made entirely from black insulation tape, including a small section of red tape and sometimes illustrated elements. The line sections are all improvised on the spot and mostly determined by what music I'm listening to at that moment.

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The larger image sections are images I've found that I like or feel inspired by, that most of the time I change in some way or another to make a more interesting silhouette. The method of filling in the silhouettes with the patterns is very improvised as well. I'll usually start by making a single line moving through the image then start changing the angle of the lines until they make a pattern.

The process can vary in timescale, some parts can be finished quickly depending on how simple the pattern or shapes turn out to be. The current show [took] six days, from opening to close, including two late nights. In the past I've had a lot more time to spend on it which leads to the tape covering as much of the given area as it can before I'm told to stop... once it ended up travelling around three floors of a building.

Why black PVC tape? Have you always worked in this medium?

I was trying to explain the visuals I get from music to a friend once and started drawing the lines in a book. I thought it would be a good idea for an art project, but I needed a big space to try it out, so I asked to use the walls of the North West Institute, but I wasn't allowed to draw or paint on the walls. So I found a roll of black tape and started using it, because when it was finished I could take it back down easily.

I've included other mediums into the pieces before, such as illustrations and 3D elements. Apart from the tape, I draw quite a lot, mostly in pen. I also paint and make clay sculptures.

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There's quite an imaginative concept story you have woven into the exhibition - can you talk us through that?

The concept story is honestly minimal, the main purpose of the tape work is to present the idea of how I see music, but I liked the idea of having an additional narrative running through the work. I'm a big H.P. Lovecraft fan, especially the Cthulhu stories, massive alien gods spreading madness et cetera. So I came up with the idea of the tape as a sort of infectious entity that is released by large monsters and starts manipulating and mutating everyone it touches.

What sort of things have inspired you to create this?

Mostly music, I'm sort of obsessed. So much so that I find it hard to sleep without something playing in the background. Films play a large part of the influences as well. 

How did it come to be at the Alley Theatre and as an artist from Strabane, what has it meant to you to have it on display there?

I was at a previous exhibition by local tattoo artist/legend/friend Danny McCay and started talking to Adrian Beattie about the possibility of getting a spot in the gallery. He was quickly able to sort out a place for me, which I'm very greatful for. It's a great privilege to display the work in my hometown. Almost all my family still live there, so the support from them all has been enormous and really encouraging.

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What kind of response has it been getting since its launch?

The response has been incredible, there were so many positive comments about the work from both the gallery employees and everyone who has visited to see the work, even the mayor.

Is this your first public exhibition? If not, what have you done previously?

No, I've had other public exhibitions before. When I was in the HND course I was given the opportunity to display the tape work in the Void art gallery in Derry. Then for my final piece in Liverpool I made another two 'Mericepel' pieces in both the old and new art buildings.

Creating such a piece must take a lot of time and patience. Is it a laborious task or do you find it to be relaxing, being so absorbed in it?

It's actually the most relaxing thing I've ever done. There was an bit of stress this time to get everything finished in time, but apart from that I love making these pieces. I tend to get very anxious and fidgety if I'm sitting still, so repetitive tasks like jigsaws, drawing and making models are my comfort zone.

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What ambitions do you have as an artist? Do you hope to make it a career?

I've never really considered making a career as an artist. All the jobs I've ever had I really enjoyed. Especially my current one because there's so much hands-on work. I'm happy to just make art as something I that relaxes me and that people will hopefully enjoy.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't say no to making money from the work – this is actually the first time I've put anything into a tape piece that can be sold. I made the singular images on boards that I can sell if there are any interested buyers, but selling my work was never a priority.

Do you have any future projects you're currently working on? What are your plans going forward?

I don't have anything currently lined up for more 'Mericepel' pieces, I'm all taped out right now, but I'm working on a lot of pen illustrations that friends have requested, as well as some personal hobbies like costume making.

Mericepel V is on display in the Alley Theatre, Strabane's gallery space until August 19. For opening times and more upcoming events and exhibitions visit www.alley-theatre.com.