Tripoli Patterson is all about the natural life.Whether referencing how he was born into this world, or his approach to, well, anything that captures his interest, Mr. Patterson credits his mother, Terry, for raising him to embrace the bold, creative and organic parts of life, just as she has.
Thirty years ago, that meant giving birth to her son on her own terms: at their home in Sag Harbor.
Twenty years ago, it meant learning to ride the world’s waves together, wherever they lived—from the East End to Bali to New Zealand—and well enough to be called championship surfers.
Ten years ago, it meant introducing his late godmother, Lisa de Kooning, to fellow surfer and abstract artist Félix Bonilla Gerena, fueling a partnership and mutual admiration that would ultimately lead to the opening of Tripoli Gallery in Southampton.
Today, it means continuing the legacy Mr. Patterson has started. On Saturday, he will open his second eponymous gallery with, appropriately, a new collection of Mr. Gerena’s work, dedicated to Ms. de Kooning’s memory, on the ground floor of Glenn Horowitz Bookseller in East Hampton.
“I like the path that I’m on; I think life steers you onto different paths and you have to be [accepting of] that,” Mr. Patterson said last week inside the unfinished East Hampton space. “A lot of times, I compare things in life to things I’ve learned in the ocean: if you’re in a current, you don’t fight it because you’re not going to get anywhere. The ocean’s always more powerful than you are. The second you start battling, you’ll lose your energy, sink and drown. It’s the same thing in life.”
Born to a mother with an extreme case of wanderlust, Mr. Patterson—who is one quarter Jamaican, Cuban, English and German—learned quickly to ebb and flow, living as other cultures do with his three siblings, the youngest of whom is rapper and artist Yung Jake.
What he saw has shaped his perspective forever.
“There are people out here that have so much and still find things to be upset about, or annoyed about, or angry about,” he said. “But when you go to other places and see kids that have absolutely nothing smiling, and they’re glowing because they’re happy, it just goes to show that the material stuff isn’t the stuff that’s going to bring you happiness.
“Life brings you happiness, love brings you happiness,” he continued, “and growing up out here, I think there’s a responsibility for locals from this area to uphold what we were born into. I want the galleries to speak to that.”
Mr. Patterson has never been the artist himself, at least not in the traditional sense. But he could appreciate it: art by his peers—he helped them organize pop-up exhibits before ever dreaming of opening his own gallery—from his mother’s watercolors, to the abstract expressionism of her childhood friend, Ms. de Kooning.
“I curated her first exhibit, even though she’d been an artist her whole life,” Mr. Patterson said of Ms. de Kooning, daughter of abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning. “My Mom said she remembers when they were younger, Lisa was always a great artist, but she could never really be one because her father was so well known. She’d get offered shows, but nobody wanted to see the work. She said the reason she let me show her work was because I was the first person that wanted to see it before giving her a show.”
In 2009, Ms. de Kooning fronted the first month of rent for Tripoli Gallery in Southampton. Mr. Patterson had moved back to the East End with next to nothing—no family estate and no trust fund or inheritance to speak of. He had to make it on his own, crashing with friends that first summer. After all, he had assured Félix Bonilla Gerena a solo exhibition.
“I had promised him a show even though I didn’t have a space for him yet, so I brought Lisa down to see it,” Mr. Patterson said of Mr. Gerena’s art. “She loved the work and ended up offering her private plane—a G-IV—to take back as many paintings as we wanted … When we landed in Westhampton, Lisa asked if Félix wanted to un-stretch the paintings in her Dad’s studio and, when I told Félix that, he was just so beyond himself … stretching the whole exhibition using Bill de Kooning’s old tools. When I saw in his eyes how important that was for him, it kind of instilled into me that I’m doing this for a reason. That levitated me into starting the gallery.”
Mr. Patterson’s energy is that of pure- and positivity-laden passion laced with critical thinking. And if the success of his flagship location serves as any barometer—his initial six-month lease morphed into six solid years of operation, despite seasonality—there is no telling where globe-trotting art lovers could see the gallery’s growing brand next.
Tripoli Gallery East Hampton will open its doors with a reception for “Félix Bonilla Gerena: For Lisa” on Saturday, April 25, from 5 to 8 p.m. The exhibition will remain on view through May 17. For more information, call (631) 324-0149, or visit tripoligallery.com.