Saturday, May 09, 2015

Looking Up Rather Than Down

“If I knew what a painting was going to look like when it was finished
I probably would have never started it in the first place.”
Ed Paschke

Except for a couple of years in the army and truncated visits to Europe and New York American pop artist Ed Paschke lived and worked in Chicago. For 25 years he had a studio in the Windy City’s low rent district colloquially known as the "Jonquil Jungle," about which he has said “"Right outside my studio door there is the street teeming with life, and within that are sorts of diverse combinations of different types of people. Some with varying degrees of sophistication. Latinos, African blacks, Jamaican blacks, Asian boat people, American Indians, Caucasians, all types are represented. It’s completely integrated, almost an insane asylum out there and I love it. That is the idea of a big city. I like the idea of the cross fertilization of cultures. It’s America."

Best known as the pop artist who painted the movement’s underbelly Paschke approached his art with the duality of both a performer and an audience.

As he told Kate Horsfield in a 1983 interview “Well, there was an interest on my part in images that were unusual, exotic, different; things out of the norm and circus life appealed to me a great deal. I liked the idea of the heightened sense of reality of the exotic and the unusual. So I began to use those things as elements, as source material.”

Towards the end of that decade Paschke added television to his repertoire. About which the New York Time’s Ken Johnson wrote “In the late ’80s Mr. Paschke began painting images that looked as if they were broadcast by a television on acid, with lines of neon-bright visual static coursing over the ghostly heads of vaguely menacing men. Few painters have captured the shifty, electric spirit of postindustrial capitalism so vividly.

For Paschke was painting as much for himself as for a subsequent audience; questioning the validity and the application of his assumptions.

As he had said “It was done so that there was intentional ambiguity about a specific interpretation. So that you are walking that tight-rope between: is it about this or is it about that? You could slant or weigh it toward one side or another depending on your point of view. And that was really my intention. It was to be walking that tight-rope and charging these things so that they would be responded to in various ways.”

To which he added “Very rarely are the people at the bottom influenced by the people at the top. It usually works the other way around in terms of trends and styles and that sort of thing. That happens to be my personal theory.”

The exhibition Ed Paschke: Visionary from Chicago, 1968–2004 is currently on show at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum until the 5th of July.

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