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Friday, April 17, 2015

Ed Paschke

Shoes, accordions, and celebrities... 
Orange Self Portrait, Ed Paschke
Very often, in coming upon the work of an artist with whom we're not familiar, we instinctively judge whether we like that art and artist based upon a single, simple, subconscious question: would I hang his or her work in my home? It's usually a snap judgment based upon a first impression, often derived from a limited number of works, sometimes reflecting only a relatively short span of time in the artist's career. Besides that, it's at least somewhat unfair in that many artists, especially once they become known, cease to paint works of the scale and content suitable for over the couch in the living room. They paint for the large, sterile galleries of art museums (or commercial galleries) in an attempt to cement their legacy in the world of art. I think I could prove that the longer an artist creates the larger the works become and the fewer pieces he or she turns out each year (which is logical). In visiting the Art Institute of Chicago last spring I came upon the paintings of Chicago artist, Ed Paschke. In looking over his life's work, all those observations hold true. During the 1970s, he turned out an enormous volume of modest-size paintings. The opposite was true some twenty years later during the 1990s.

Mid America, Ed Paschke. This one I couldn't live with.
Pink Lady, 1970, Ed Paschke.
This one might work in the dining room.
Although I didn't realize it at the time, I also made the snap judgment mentioned above. That is to say, I wouldn't (hang him in my home, that is). Okay, there's one or two I wouldn't mind owning, but by and large, his work, even from his early years, is much too powerful for my taste, and I think that of most other people as well. We'd not feel comfortable living with it day in and day out. That's not to say I don't like his work, though I have the feeling I'm too old to really appreciate most of it (even though the artist was born (in 1939), some six years before my time. That may not sound like much, but six years just after the middle of the 20th-century when he and I began painting, were quite tumultuous. We changed eras, from Modern to Postmodern, from Abstract to Pop Art. Paschke's art, perhaps better than any artist I know of, reflects this evolution...or perhaps I should say, revolution.

Margie, 1974, Ed Paschke
Minnie, 1974, Ed Paschke
Ed Paschke and I started painting about the same time--1970. His work reflects a conscious realization of the changes taking place in the art world. Mine didn't. While in college I painted a few pieces that today could be called Postmodern, but at the time my tendency was to retreat into the safe realism of Modern Art while Paschke struck out to break new ground in melding Pop Art and the abstract art to which he'd been exposed to in studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the late 1960s. His Margie (above), from 1974, is a case in point--Pop Art with a side of Abstract Expressionism--definitely not for my living room. Minnie (left). from 1974, depicts an anonymous individual against a background of emanating lights typical of Paschke's artistic production from that period. Overwhelming in her theatrical costume, elaborate hairdo, and weird makeup, Minnie is a grotesque, underworld character, flamboyant and overly sexualized in a peculiar mixture of electric hues. Paschke turned Pop Art from cool to hot.

Sherry, 1979, Ed Paschke. This one I like, though it would take some getting used to.

The womb room of a great
 force in the Chicago art world.
As much as his style and content, Paschke's colors SCREAM at the viewer. They are an integral part of his trademark look--extreme alizarin, pthalocyanine blues and greens, bright yellows, and other electric hues. Few people would choose his paintings hoping to match their décor. However, hang them in a gallery--off-white walls, hardwood floor, flat-black ceiling, glaring spotlights--and the result is breathtaking. That is to say, they have somewhat the effect of knocking the wind from your lungs. Ed Paschke died suddenly in his sleep in 2004. As so often happens, his work may well be more popular today than during his lifetime. His two grown children have taken steps to see that their father's legacy lives on as they've founded the Ed Paschke Art Center (below) in a working-class neighborhood on the Northwest side of Chicago, where Paschke once had his studio. They have painstakingly restored it while adding a small museum and children's art studio.

Chicago's Ed Paschke Art Center
Paschke's offspring need not worry about their dad's lasting legacy. No less an artist than Jeff Koons, who was once Paschke's studio assistant, had this to say about his former mentor:
"Ed Paschke taught me what it meant to be a professional artist. His paintings are like drugs, but in a good way: they are among the strongest physical images that I've ever seen. Their effect is neurological."   
                                                                                                                   --Jeff Koons

Recognize this guy?
A Chicago Visionary, ca. 2003-04, Ed Paschke.


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