The view through Patrick Eugene's studio window keeps changing, and painting is his means of keeping up. The 31-year-old artist creates bright, chaotic works inspired by the rapid gentrification taking place all around him in East New York, Brooklyn. His canvases are splattered with both havoc and joy, and some of his materials are sourced from the very construction sites fueling the area's creative destruction. Eugene has only been painting for four years, but speaks of his work and how it relates to the world with the confidence of a veteran.

On Thursday, Eugene's first solo exhibition, Deconstruction, opens at Sunset Park's Brooklyn Arts Fellowship with a reception that includes music, free drinks, and, he hopes, reflection about what it means to create abstract art in a gentrifying neighborhood. All told, 15 pieces will be on display, including large-sized canvas paintings, sculpture, and smaller drawings. Eugene took a break from finishing last-minute tasks at the gallery to speak about his process and East New York's tenuous future.

How did you come to label your new show Deconstruction? I live in East New York and I see what's happening. I’m starting to see the historical buildings being broken down and demolished, the community parks being taken away from people, and so many shiny new buildings being put up. Deconstruction came from that process, and also my whole idea of the long term plan that allowed this to happen—one of breaking down the community.

My artwork is really, really abstract, but it's directly inspired by what I see. I want to make a statement, but I’m also not a politician or an activist. East New York has been known for a long time for being one of the more dangerous parts of Brooklyn—it just wasn’t always a pretty place. A few blocks away from where I live they've put up maybe in the last year maybe 8 or 9 quote-unquote affordable housing buildings. But when you get into the dynamics and who can afford the buildings, it really isn't affordable for anyone here. De Blasio has an extensive plan for East New York specifically, and it consists of rezoning and allowing for taller buildings to built. You know what happens after that.


What motivated you to become a painter? I was doing financial advising for Chase, and I hated every moment of it, to be honest. But it dove me to find new ways to easy my mind. I don' really know what triggered me to go to the art store one day, but I picked up a really small canvas and some basic supplies. I posted a picture to Instagram saying "Here's my first painting," and people really reacted to it. From there, I had a ton of fun doing this, and I continued to draw and paint. I didn't know that I could.

Then, the day I left my job, by coincidence, I got a phone call from someone who saw my work online and wanted to buy a painting. At the same moment I was pulled over by the police because I was on my phone. Later that day a young lady from Queens came over to buy my piece, and that was the start of my professional art career.

You've said before that you're witnessing both positive and negative changes in East New York. I have. Growing up in such a diverse neighborhood, I'm all for additional diversity. I like it, it's awesome. You're definitely seeing people that wouldn't have been there ten years ago. The type of people that are moving into the area are people that I can really hang with. They're for the most part artistic people in the same situation as me who can't afford to be in pricier neighborhoods.

Those same people who we'd call gentrifiers are eventually going to get pushed out of the area as well. All the artists used to live in Williamsburg, then Bushwick, and now they're in East NY. Who doesn't love coffee shops and more restaurants and more options? When there's an interest in the area, obviously developers will come in and make it feel more comfortable for new businesses. But the downsides are it's not designed in a way that's going to benefit the people that are there. They may be able to enjoy it at first, but the long term plan is to get them out of there and jack up the rents.

I don't want to directly sit here and make bold statements about how this was done and why, but I see it. And I think as an artist I just want to capture your surroundings and embody what you're experiencing in a daily basis.


Do you take gentrification personally? I don't take it personally, I wouldn't say that. I'm just aware of it. My family owns property in East New York, and we have a tight-knit structure. When it comes to my grandmother who owns her home, we understand that if she holds on to it for a little while it can benefit her.

But also I see the pain and confusion in people's eyes. It sucks to see what they're going through but I don't take it personally because I have never experienced disrespect or racism in any sense or form to my face here. But it's my responsibility to understand what's going on around me.

It really is only a money thing, but then If it's about money, why not find ways to capitalize that include everyone? The one thing that can be taken somewhat personally is the assumption that the community is just ignorant to what's going on. That's smack in the face. I go listen to panels—they're saying "We're not dumb." When you tell us that there's affordable housing and then ask us to pay something way higher than what the average person in this community can pay, we know that affordable doesn't mean affordable to us. That gets taken personally, getting disrespected in that way.

Well then when it comes to East New York's changing landscape, what is it that's most important to hold on to? It's about the people—the Caribbean culture. I could do without violence. I can do without worrying about my girlfriend walking down the street at a certain time. But there are Caribbean restaurants that I'd love to see actually flourish as these thing come in and grow on their businesses. The block parties that have been going on since I was a young boy. Little nuances. I know people fighting to keep landmarks alive. They just tore down a historic bank on the corner of Atlantic and Pennsylvania, and now they're building a seven story glass medical center.

Can you describe a couple of the pieces that are in the show? Both aesthetically and intellectually? I have a piece in the show that's done on drop cloth. Rather than using traditional canvas, I used drop cloth which I found while guys were renovating a building on my block. It had paint splatter and was dirty and I painted on it raw with no primer and dug into it with a lot of aggression. It's an abstract piece, with roughly some buildings on it if you look a certain way and the word "affordable" near the top.

I also have another pretty big sculpture and painting mixed together. That came about when I heard about a garden that was being torn apart. It's a very weird piece but it has dried flowers and metal piping on it. It has a can of paint hanging on there with flowers coming out of it. It has a wind chime hanging from it. It's very raw-looking. It plays into the garden but also the process of the construction and ruin.

What do you hope people to get out of Deconstruction? I know a little bit about what's going on. I'm not—I don't want to come off as if I'm a real die hard activist. I don't want to come off as if I know all the answers. I just want people to come in and feel the vibe of the pieces. Abstract impressionism is really about feeling the energy from the pieces as opposed to direct images. Just come in and feel the emotions that someone who's living in the middle of this is feeling.

Deconstruction runs Thursday, September 8th through Friday, September 23rd // Opening reception Thursday at 6:30 p.m. // Brooklyn Arts Fellowship, 210 24th Street in Sunset Park