Rebel photographer and artist Clayton Patterson is leading the charge to fight cultural cleansing and revitalise the Big Apple's underground art scene.

Rebel photographer and artist Clayton Patterson is leading the charge to fight cultural cleansing and revitalise the Big Apple's underground art scene.

Clayton Patterson has tirelessly documented the creative chaos of the Lower East Side since the late 1970s. As an artist, photographer, filmmaker, community activist and popular historian he’s watched the neighbourhood morph and change – from artistic melting pot to bougie brunch spot – and is a vocal critic of the direction New York City has taken in recent years. He’s angry with a city administration that seems determined to wipe out the city’s grassroots culture and is spitting fire at Taylor Swift’s recent coronation as the city’s ‘welcome ambassador’.

In what Clayton sees as one of the biggest insults to the city’s artists, corporate tourism group NYC & Company recently launched a video campaign that includes Swift (who grew up in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania and Nashville, Tennessee) giving lessons on New York vocabulary. “Taylor Swift is a global icon,” he says, exasperated. “Taylor Swift, in no way or form, represents New York.”

On his annual tour to the Wildstyle Tattoo fair in Austria, he was unsurprised to discover that Taylor Swift is almost universally recognised in Europe. “Now they see New York as Taylor Swift, so that then sells it as a tourist commodity, but it also depreciates the value,” he explains. “You see we exported the jobs, now we import the talent. I don’t give a shit if it’s pop, if it’s Madonna or Lady Gaga or Jay-Z or whoever, at least they’re from the city. They have talent. So why would you import it?”

While promoting their Taylor Swift tourist video, authorities moved to remove Jim ‘Mosaic Man’ Power’s colourful street mosaics at Astor Place to make way for a bland redesign. Clayton is determined to build an alliance to fight the corporate whitewashing of the city’s culture and revitalise the grassroots art scene. The first step is to whip up support for his campaign to unseat Taylor Swift.

Clayton has produced a viral video response (above) to the Taylor Swift promo, with his own footage (from the 2008 documentary about his life and work Captured) inter-spliced between Taylor’s mindless drivel, including police fighting protestors, eccentrics of the underground art scene and GG Allin running through the streets smeared in shit.

While he despairs at how the culture is being cleansed on all levels, he still believes in the transformative power of art: “I look at art as something that can be a real concrete thing. And then eventually you can get beyond that and you can make it political, which can have an action and a reaction. Then you can have a larger concept where you’re making social change.”

Clayton’s latest action in the counter-propaganda campaign is a fiery opinion piece in The Villager, calling the appointment of Taylor Swift a “stunning example of corporate capitalism dominating our democracy and freedom”, and ends with the cry, “Wake up, N.Y.C.!”

Follow and support Clayton’s campaign to take back NYC’s grassroots culture.