Sunday, September 28, 2014

La Mano en Trabajo: Ed Paschke

To coincide with an exhibition opening October 6th, at Benedictine University's Fr. Michael E. Komechak, O.S.B., Art Gallery, this article will discuss the prints of famed Chicago artist, Ed Paschke. This exhibit will be a commemorative look at his work, since his passing ten years ago. It will feature works from the family's private holdings, and some rarely seen works, including prints.

Edward Francis Paschke, 1939 – 2004, was a Polish American painter. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and later worked as a commercial artist, until he was drafted into the Army in 1962. When he returned to Chicago after his service, he worked as an illustrator and then went to teach painting at Northwestern University. His prolific career was cut short when he died on Thanksgiving morning, in 2004, of an apparent heart attack.

For those of you unfamiliar with Paschke's prints, they closely relate to his paintings, which earned him worldwide acclaim, and secured a spot in the art history annals for Chicago's Imagist Movement; popular in the latter part of the 20th century. Paschke's love of making art started as a child while making objects with his father and brother. He liked Disney cartoons and grew up in Chicago during a period of relative calm until the civil rights marches came to the Midwest.
Paschke was aligned with a group of artists working on Chicago who's imagery was drawn from cartoonesque-like characters. Their bond has been a staple of the Chicago art scene, and has inspired numerous artists and followers, Tony Fitzpatrick and Jeff Koons, to name a few.(Koons studied with Paschke at Northwestern University, and admits Paschke's influence upon his own ideas.)
The thing about Paschke's work is that he brings out the crust, if your will, of society. I can't say these images of pimps, strippers and gestapo-like characters aren't prevalent in Chicago. They can be found, but one gets an oddly curious feel for these portraits. They are flamboyant, wild and gregarious. His work includes carney performer posters and weirdly misshapen musicians, with the ever seductive Marilyn Monroe picture stuck in there, just for fun.
A lot has been made of Paschke's fascination with these oddballs, his interest in Latino and African-American male portraits, with a few gangsta gun references and mask-like hooligans. These images are full and present, but there is nothing to suggest Paschke was truly mesmerized by these subjects any more than he was of painting a self-portrait or any other subject. they were subjects readily handy at the time and he grabbed at them, pulled them together in psychedelic neon colors and blazed a trail for us to follow. "I like a lot of color. When I was a kid, I always found fireworks really fascinating. The way that firecrackers are packaged. The circus too. The heightened sense of reality and the total spectacle of it."

His portraits of Michael Jordan were timely, with the Chicago Bulls championships of the 1990s, but he seemed more akin to finding and using the subjects as a tool for expanding his craft. The masks, harken back to Picasso's use of primitive African masks in his work. At one point, Paschke eliminates the subjects' eyes, mouth and nose, deliberately de-personifying them. They have no place or time or identifying features, and then become, in a sense, a universal man. I am reminded of the work of Rodin, who achieved a universal masculinity. Paschke arrives at the same place via his own devices.
The prints were a by-product of his paintings, at a time when a lot of painters were realizing the merits of getting inked up and making images on paper. Paschke proved himself adept at making prints, too, and created some gems, which I am sharing with you today.
Paschke chose to change and manipulate his portraits. He chose to change their sex, and change their face from their body. His compositions are action-packed, and little is left open for us to wander far from the subject. He commands our attention with dexterity, quirky combinations of images and text, and linear bands of color that speak of the MTV Max Headroom days.

His collages portray our fragmented society and our inability to 'tone it down' any longer. IIn a sense, it's as if Paschke is saying that since we can't control whats happening in our visually bombarded world, then we may as well embrace it and crank up the visual volume. He makes us aware that there are always layers beneath one's veneer, beneath the mask we show the world.

I never really bought the idea that Paschke was trying to show the seedy side of Chicago in any specific or moralistic sense. These characters could be found anywhere. Well maybe not Anywhere...Paschke's studio on Howard Street was the dividing line between the big, bad city and the suburban genteel. There would have been enough fringy characters running around the area for a good take on some of his subjects. Yet, the town(Chicago) is the town, and it has its plethora of issues with mafia, gangs, guns, and the like; but it is also a town of hard-working people, and especially hard-working artists. He was a good, hard-working artist who chose a bold, funky subject and ran with it. Who amongst us wouldn't have done the same?

The piece I chose to close this article with is one that was personal for Paschke. "Compassion" is a print of the artist and his wife Nancy. Nancy was also an artist, and after raising two children, Marc and Sharon, she developed a debilitating illness which required a caretaker. As Ed's career continued to take off, people suggested he move to New York to further his career, but he would not leave his wife. This print shows Paschke embracing Nancy as she leans her head on his shoulder. The colors here are noticeably more somber, quiet. They were soul mates. Two months after Paschke's sudden death, Nancy followed after him...
The exhibition at Benedictine University will also feature some of Nancy's work.

In June 2014, the Ed Paschke Art Center was unveiled in Chicago. It is a great place to visit, see some of his work and a replica of his studio. Take a trip and go visit the work of one of Chicago's brightest art stars. You will be glad you did.

Public Collections:
The Art Institute of Chicago
Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland
Benedictine University, Lisle, IL
Birmingham Museum of Art, England
Borg-Warner Corporation, Chicago
Brauer Museum of Art, Valparaiso, IN
Brooklyn Museum, New York
Carnegie Center for Art & History, New Albany, IN
Carnegie Museum, Pittsburg
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
The Chicago Tribune
Chicago History Museum, Chicago, IL
Cole-Taylor Bank, Chicago
Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, HI
Continental Bank, Chicago
Elvehjem Museum of Art, Madison, WI
Exxon Corporation, New York
First National Bank of Chicago
General Electric & Co, Fairfield, CT
Hirshorn Museum, Washington, DC
Illinois Bell, Chicago
Illinois State Museum of Art, Springfield, IL
Jacksonville Museum of Art, Florida
Kalamazoo Institute of Art, Michigan
John F Kennedy Library, Washington, DC
Madison Art Center, Madison, WI
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin
Montgomery Museum of Art, Montgomery, AL
Musee d'Art Moderne Nationale, Paris
Museo de Art Contemporaneo de Monterrey, Mexico
Museum Boymans, Rotterdam, Holland
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna
National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Inst. Washington, DC
Northern Trust Bank, Chicago
Palmer Museum of Art, Penn State University Museum, University Park, PA
Playboy Collection, Chicago
Polk Museum, Lakeland, Florida
Rutgers University, New Jersey
The State of Illinois, Chicago
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC
Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Yale University Museum, CT

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