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Critical Essays



By Jeff Koons

Artist & Friend

Reproduced from the Exhibition Catalog for Ed Paschke at Gagosian March 18-April 24th 2010

In 1974 I became aware of Ed Paschke's work, and it was a transforming moment in my life. I loved the sense of strangeness of his images, which were profoundly internal but external at the same time. I encountered an art that created a transcendent experience for the viewer. I was hooked. I almost immediately transferred my studies from the Maryland Institute College of Art to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. On my first evening in Chicago, I went to the gallery district on Ontario Street and went into a bar called the Inkwell. This tall man came in, and I thought, "From everything that I've heard about Ed Paschke, this has to be him." Sure enough, it was Ed. I told him that I hoped to be able to study with him.


I did end up studying with him at the Art Institute, and I also became his studio assistant. I can remember the first time I went to Ed's studio on Clark Street, about eh Adelphi Theatre, walking in and seeing Red Sweeney (1975). I have never experienced an artwork that functioned on such a physical level before.  I felt what it must be like to mainline some sort of drug. I don't really know drugs, but I knew that looking at the painting was affecting me chemically.  Every weekend Saturdays and Sundays, I would spend time at Ed's studio, stretching canvasses and sometimes even painting on those canvasses. Those weekends were incredible for me, because I was able to learn from Ed by example what it meant to be a young artist who was actually exhibiting and living the life of an artist, who was trying to create a greater platform for his work.


When I think about the word "befriending," these moments with Ed come to mind. We would sit and talk about everything. Ed would talk about the politics of being an artist and being at the service of your work and realizing your dreams through commitment and desire. After working all afternoon, he would show me outside the studio where he found his sources, whether from a photograph, a window of a tattoo parlor, or the way a certain-colored light would hit a curtain in a bar on the West Side. Ed taught me about the readymade and revealed to me that everything is already there; you just have to look for it and open yourself up to your environment and you will be able to find what your interests are everywhere. It was a very metaphysical place that Ed revealed to me. I have always believed that Ed's work functions on an intellectual level and a physical level at the same time, communicating to the viewer that through self-acceptance one can open oneself up to the stimulation around them and experience true transcendence.

Global Paschke

Global Paschke

By Dave Hickey

Art Critic

Reproduced from the Exhibition Catalog for Ed Paschke at Gagosian March 18-April 24th 2010

Through all Ed Paschke’s decades as pakhan of the Chicago art world, he was always too rough for New York City. He complained about this with justification, but he never did much to mitigate that roughness because he realized, almost certainly, that he was not without blame for his contretemps. Neither his well-maintained self-image as a Polish working stiff nor his disinclination to set himself above his peers was much fancied in lower Manhattan. Put simply, Paschke was an easygoing guy who tolerated less-worthy contemporaries without much grumbling, and who allowed himself to be classified with a group of local artists who, in my opinion, were less qualified for fame than they thought they were. Paschke paid the price for this transgression, but as I once I told him, the rules aren’t right but they are the rules. Ed just shrugged. He never moved to New York or Berlin. Whenever he was needed or summoned, he valiantly donned a tuxedo and stood up for the Chicago art world, because he was true to his school and that was all of the attention he really needed.

Like Ed Ruscha and his romance with Los Angeles, Paschke found his great subject in the city of Chicago and never abandoned it. Chicago was Paschke’s Tahiti, his Samarkand; its distance from the international art scene was the price one paid for Chicago’s thick, exotic gruel, for a backstage pass to that wicked, protean puddle out there in the middle of Middle America. So Paschke drove every day to a studio that looked more like Philip Marlowe’s office than an art studio and painted paintings like a private investigator. He took in freezing homeless people from the sidewalk, fed them, and used them for models. If you dropped by, he took you to dingy restaurants full of surly, tough-guy Armenians whose manners dated back to the prime of the Silk Road. He snaked through the dark streets to Capone’s old hangouts, and took you downtown to the Billygoat, with its retinue of louche journalists wearing louche journalist fedoras, and he would tell you stories.

That’s what I miss most, as I sit here writing about Paschke’s paintings: the fact that Paschke is unavailable for comment. I miss the Homeric filigree of race, drugs, crime, dark streets, and refugees that Paschke spun around them—just as his boyhood hero, Nelson Algren, had spun those stories around his own writing. What I love most about Paschke and Algren, now that they are gone, is the final, absolute confirmation that those Homeric filigrees were just talk; that the mystery still exists in the work itself, in the paintings and books, and the talk was just Tabasco. Chicago, after all, can fold you in like raisins into bagel dough. You never know quite what is what, or what comes from where, or who these people are. Consider the differences: Los Angeles eats its own past; New York paints it white; Chicago lays one stratum upon another like a pancake sandwich of ghettos, new ghettos, urban renewals, and ancient local traditions that date back to the provinces of the Roman Empire. It is the great cosmopolis of the marginalized and downtrodden; the most unassimilated European city in America; the hometown of the Cubs, the Bulls, the Sox, and the Bears—a messy landscape of tribes, markets, industries, bad politics, and soul-destroying labor—a city mad about architecture that fails to mitigate its entropy—mad about sports that only perpetuate vendettas—like Istanbul, where rioting sports fans would have toppled the empire were it not for Theodosia, the charismatic whore whom the Emperor Julian had the good sense to marry. Since I once met a man who dated his enthusiasm for the Cubs back to something that happened in Genoa, this moment seems very Chicago to me.

So this is the way I’ve been thinking: toward Middle Europe and the Middle East, toward the Black Sea, the Aegean, the Adriatic, and the Mediterranean, because Paschke’s paintings, for all their ominous familiarity, don’t look like paintings, and certainly not like European pictures. They are less images than icons that declare their presence, like those tough Armenian dudes. They feel like bas-reliefs of the sort you might see in blue enameled brick on an Assyrian wall, or etched on the sarcophagus of an Egyptian tomb, or aglow in tile in a Byzantine chapel, or tattooed like a sleeve down the arm of a Polynesian sailor. Or they would if Paschke hadn’t appropriated every ragged stroke of background noise from the souk to the zócalo, from Mumbai to Freetown to Mazatlán.

The action of these paintings, however, takes place between the subject and the picture plane, and throughout Paschke’s career this territory gradually became more gauzy and problematic. Unlike Warhol, who liked to paint on drawing, so that the action, in his work, takes place in the modern manner, between the painting and the beholder, Paschke liked to draw on painting, and his subjects, over the years, found it more and more difficult to reach the picture plane. Paschke’s tattooed and neon drawing functions in nearly every case as a form of interference or misdirection—something that has happened to the subject or is happening to the subject and that disguises as much as it reveals. Something has always happened. Things have been done to Paschke’s characters, or they have done things to themselves.

Like Francine (1973), with her headband, tattoos, and macramé underwear, like Joella (1973), whose armpit hair segues into elaborate tattoos, these women are their attributes, people in costume playing roles in an atmosphere of global interference. They are characters in Paschke’s Windy City commedia dell’arte. Consequently, one could write a thesis on Paschke’s costumes and tattoos. The costumes prefigure, with deadly seriousness, the confectionary fantasies of Cirque du Soleil and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The tattoos serve as a kind of graphic chiaroscuro, a net of stigmata that embody the ways his characters have been marked from without, and ultimately as stigmata for the paintings themselves as they revert back to drawing. They disassociate themselves from the figure portrayed and attach themselves to the picture plane, like Elvis in Matinee (1987), in which the schematic drawing of the singer holds the picture plane while Elvis himself floats in the subaqueous neon background.

So Paschke’s subjects are characters made caricatures by the residue of the lives they have lived, by the times they have lived in, and by the very act of reproducing them. Nobody survives—not the pimps, the whores, the high rollers, the wrestlers, or the presidentz. Everything is marked and interfered with in Paschke’s great circus of Chicago, the greatest, brightest, saddest show on earth.

The consequence of Paschke’s singular focus and inclusive iconography is that, as his paintings have survived in the flow of things, they have undergone a spectacular transformation. Paintings that once seemed the very essence of the provincial now read as the very essence of the global. The past reads back these days. Andy’s Marilyns now evoke the Byzantine saints in a tiny church in Polish Hill in Pittsburgh, and these echo back to Byzantium itself. Today, then, it is becoming clearer and clearer that what Paschke found and saw in Chicago was the world in a bottle, the perfect postindustrial microcosm of a global autumn—the world in all its entropy, bereft of monuments—the crazed urban banality of Jason Bourne and Slumdog Millionaire—global trash and global treasure.

So it is no surprise, I guess, that the landscape in the new global Cuisinart would suddenly start rhyming with Paschke’s pictures, and that the paintings of Paschke’s progeny would fill galleries all over the world. His ex–studio assistant Jeff Koons, who curated this show, stands astride the art world; John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage, Kehinde Wiley, each with their own commedia dell’arte, are very much in sight. So it’s too late for Ed to gather glory, but just in time for his acolytes. And one might conjure up a small, sentimental tragedy out of Ed’s posthumous relevance, were it not for the fact that posthumous relevance is what most artists seek. Not only that, but of all the artists I have known, Ed Paschke would be the most likely to be annoyed by seeing his vision of things rhyming with the world itself, because in winning he would lose his wolf-man status as a hard-working outsider, and Ed Paschke held that dear.

What he would love would be the spectacle of all the antique residue that he accumulated in Chicago going home—of all his local Poles and Armenians going back to places they have never been. He would be happy to imagine some painter in Kraków painting The Accordion Man (1969), some kids in Mexico City and Turkey picking up on his tattooed wrestlers, some French kids painting his musicians, some half-mad proto-Surrealist in Kazakhstan appropriating the freaks in Hop Head (1970), and some super-hip Iranian kid picking up on the cultural insult that resides in Hairy Shoes (1971) and aiming it at the mullahs. He would get a kick out of that.

Even so, even taking into account the elaborate cultural dispersion of Paschke’s moods and manners, his paintings remain Chicago paintings first and last. First, all these paintings acknowledge the immediate past as a brand of prescient nostalgia. None of Paschke’s characters seem to populate the immediate present. As Paschke once told me, “I always seem to be painting someone who has just disappeared around the corner, some picture on a page that has turned yellow with age, like Norman Rockwell with a wicked eye.” I have always taken this to mean that the past bleeds back in Chicago, that it is always present. The future doesn’t exist, of course, lest the entire population realizes that winter is coming and flees. This is the Chicago-ness of Paschke’s paintings, and it marks their relevance in a global culture that is bleeding back through a Chicago phase toward the primal roots of culture and religion, toward a world in which we live more intimately with Kabul than with Hiroshima. In this world, modernism seems like a nice idea, if we could but abandon medievalism. Postmodernism is unimaginable.

The second Chicago attribute of Paschke’s paintings is that they show the work put into them, the surfeit of work, because Chicago is a working town and you want people to know you work—that you belong to the aristocracy of workers. If New York is about struggle, if New Orleans is about fun, and Los Angeles is about effortlessness, Chicago is about work and will. As a friend of mine remarked to me as we were standing in front of Tiepolo’s paintings of Rinaldo and Armida at the Art Institute of Chicago, “These are the only easy, effortless things in the city of Chicago. The city itself is about will. Things are willed into existence in Chicago. We will have this. We will have that. Concrete is terra-cotta for us, and even the jazz is willful, and this is either a virtue or a vice, depending on your point of view.”

From New York, Chicago art lacks passion and intellect. From Los Angeles, it lacks finesse and savoir faire. From New Orleans, it lacks gaiety and spontaneity, so fortunately we no longer look at things so provincially. The workmanlike approach of most global artists has, almost backhandedly, validated those Chicago painters whose parents and grandparents immigrated from what are now foreign centers of the global art world where the ethos of refinement, gaiety, and effortlessness have not taken hold, where the ecstasy of work and sadness still reign. So Chicago is still there in Paschke’s work, in the lostness it evokes, in the exquisite power of the willed line, and, most critically for me, in the haunting noir glow of Chicago neon—because neon in New York blazes, and in Vegas neon burns. In Chicago, real Chicago neon is a bent strip of orange glow in a dark street, a tiny scribble of the postmodern world surrounded by rain and darkness, and all of Ed Paschke’s paintings have that aura of darkness, that promise of secrecy, that shadowed past.


The Lion Sleeps Tonight

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

By James Yood  (1952-2018)
Professor of Art History, Criticism and Theory
School Of The Art Institute of Chicago

It isn't surprising in the first shock of grief that our initial thoughts revolve around the character of the man we have lost. Ed Paschke was a special human being - witty, generous, spry, collegial, thoughtful, supportive, alert, affable, engaged - and there are few who came in steady contact with him that did not consider him a remarkable person. The void, the kind of concussed absence that Ed Paschke leaves behind in Chicago is almost palpable, and mourning what we will miss in times to come can sometimes obscure our gratitude for what we had for so many years. In these last few months there has been a chastening impression that an era has come to an end in the history of culture here, that one of the irreplaceable benchmarks of our community has been withdrawn from our midst.

But what, besides his many personal skills, constitutes Ed Paschke's contribution to the history of art in Chicago? Why was he, out of so very many, tagged (if not against his will, certainly without his acquiescence) for several decades with the title "Chicago's Most Famous Visual Artist?" What did we mean when we thought of him that way, what idea or concept of art in Chicago did Ed Paschke come to embody and fulfill?

Cities, of course, don't make art, that's always reserved for the men and women who live within them. But cities can offer specific contexts in the visual arts, local traditions, dialogues between practitioners, peer group review, and patterns of emphasis by local galleries, collectors, and museums, etc. that help sculpt a sense of community. Ed Paschke in many ways fulfilled long-standing and undoubtedly clich�d ideas about Chicago's concept of a male cultural hero, the straightforward blue-collar street-wise savvy independent urban ethnic working class kind of fellow, ready to walk a bit on the wild side with a nice dollop of untamed grittiness, in the line of Ivan Albright, Clarence Darrow, Saul Bellow, Nelson Algren, Studs Terkel, Leon Golub, James T. Farrell, etc., as if he was some kind of Mike Royko with a paintbrush. Paschke was Chicago through and through-born here, raised here, educated here, his entire professional career here, and died here. Except for a few years as a child in a small town in Wisconsin, two years of military service and a brief stint in St. Louis as an art professor, Ed Paschke had Chicago always in his sights, restless, edgy, and intense, with a tautly observant eye to the whole range of human impulses - including the darker ones - that comprise contemporaneity. I first encountered Paschke at the end of the 1970s, when he was reckoned in his most hipster mode, the dark-turtlenecked black-leather-jacketed urban dude you might run into in a transvestite bar off Hubbard Street late at night, watching, always watching, the dramas playing out before him. The sharp and pungent colors of his palette seemed drawn from the flickering neon signage of neighborhood taverns that had seen better days, places he knew could be templates of despair, exhilaration, dreariness, and hope, sites, as Van Gogh once put it, "where one could ruin oneself, go mad, or commit a crime."

But Paschke never actually painted those places (he was also not so avid a hipster guy either, but the myths about him are too terrific to alter now). It's sometimes a surprise to remember how focused an artist Paschke actually was - he was first, last, and at all points in between, a figure painter. Things like still life, landscape, interior scenes, abstraction, portraiture (in the traditional sense) didn't engage him much, he was not particularly interested in spatial contexts for his figures, or in narrative at all. For that matter, Paschke wasn't even all that concerned with the totality of the figure either, certainly not after 1977. It was the human head that intrigued him, the face as the central icon of identify, the critical manifestation of personhood, the exterior sign of internal self. Ed Paschke was as avid a headhunter as any artist anywhere or anytime in the history of art. He sought heads everywhere, in magazines and films, in books and advertisements, in popular culture and art history, heads that he could subtly adjust before projecting them unto his canvas, tweaking their inherent peculiarity, accelerating their intimations of personality. (What a great pattern painter he would have made, though, his work always balances the columetric implication of heads with the flatness of pattern, in almost a kind of image/text relationship).

Let's risk some generalities - the grand tradition of Western art treats the human figure as an ideal form, a glimpse of God's perfection. Michelangelo's David, Botticelli's Birth of Venus, for example, and their unceasing predecessors and progeny, from Ancient Greece to modern Hollywood, privilege the body as beautiful, as a fantasy of excellence. In Chicago an alternate approach has largely held sway, beginning with an artist such as Ivan Albright, retained and embellished by artists like Seymour Rosofsky, June Leaf, and Leon Golub, and by Paschke and his contemporaries Jim Nutt, Karl Lostutter, and many more before or since, offering the human body as under extreme physical and/or psychological stress, as a compendium and, through all that, somehow revelatory. In our literature, music, politics, and art, there's a sobering and sometimes brutal tradition of no-nonsense toughness, a willingness to confront the world as it is, not as it should be.

It seems curiously appropriate that on the day he died Ed Paschke left on his easel an unfinished painting of a boxer. Defiant and doomed, plugnacious and persistent, ready to confront the world and an opponent in a most elemental way, intense, dramatic, a figure to find honorable and somehow pathetic at the same time, and perhaps to discover ourselves embedded in him as well, all that was central to Paschke's aesthetic. But Paschke did not just pictorialize those traits in images of boxers, wrestlers, strippers, murderers, and gang-bangers, in the already clearly marginalized populations of our society, part of his greatness is that he saw and presented those very same qualities in celebrities, Presidents, deities, and in his own face as well. What Ivan Albright did to the exterior of the human body - offering it as an embodiment of degeneration and corruption, as a physical vehicle of the inexorable core frailties in the human spirit - Ed Paschke would offer in a more internalized psychological sense, that uneasily beneath the varied masks of being resided forces that were extreme, intense, vehement, highly charged, and still completely universal. Paschke never averted his eyes from the disenfranchised and the outlaw, finding in them a kind of engagement with life, a vitality that was always mesmerizing, that could quicken and enlarge his and his viewer's experience. In his work the outcast and the aberrant would never be the "other" they would, instead, be us; in the finest sense of the word, Ed Paschke was humanist.

Paschke did this from the very first, and in his work of the 1960s we can see many of the attributes that will mark his work for the rest of his career. A predilection for symmetrical composition, high-keyed color, a tense eroticism, sources in vernacular imagery that he would subsequently alter, references to variously marginalized American subcultures (usually African-American or Hispanic-American) that exist in sometimes uneasy relation to dominant culture, an affection for Asian calligraphy, etc., are there in the 1960s, as they will be at the end of his life. His subject matter in the 1960s - strippers, wrestlers, assassins, circus performers, etc. - show an emphasis with typles usually defined as extreme, but again, to Paschke it is the extreme that actually comes to define the 'usual' and the 'norm'. By the 1970s he had settled into the pattern that would absorb him in the decades to come, he would take up a subject and literally exhaust it visually, working each series for a period of two or three years before moving on to his next idea. Do it big, do it small, do it tonally hot, do it tonally cold, do it horizontal, do it vertical, shift it to and fro, rolling it around in his mind and eye until he fulfilled its interest, whether it was the eroticism of shoes, the psychoses hinted behind the visages of superstars and US Presidents, the urban pulse of African-American street pimps, secrets obscured behind the impassiveness of Buddha or Pharaoh, some threshold of attraction/repulsion in burlesque strippers, the thrill of the tenous hold of life by gang members, his self-portrait as the ultimate mask, etc., he would work these and more until he was done.

The key moment in the construction of his vision seems to have come around 1977. Until then Paschke's figures were incredibly specific, lurid studies of individuals captured with a heightened realism that was tortuously explicit and particular. Then, in works such as Dominant Nurse, he will leave that specificity pretty much forever, abandon the stronger figure/ground relations he had previously constructed, and replace it with something more screenlike and ambiguous, linking figure and pattern. He will shift from obsessive particularity and individuality in his figures to something more understated, more about its mode of transmission through its suggestion of degraded film, TV, or video. Paschke got elusive and oddly universal, showing us snippets of lives experienced as televised rather than at first hand, with a dissonance and psychological disenfranchisement enhanced by the curious electronic haze in which they live and cavort. Before we had any inkling of the ramifications of cyberspace, Paschke was populating it with murder and desire, fear and bravado, preening vacancy and unutterable tension, pursuing Everyman and Everywoman rather than specific actors or types. Odd color shifts and bits of electric zips and crackling pictorial static started to intrigue him, these transmitted heads growing larger and larger, sometimes totally filling the image in a field of face, pulsing and throbbing in an assertion of self, yet somehow vacated and ready to be lost in broadcast haze. Paschke might call a bit of physiognomy into tauter focus, an ear, a nose, etc., tethering the head a bit, while leaving the rest of it warping and woofing in electronic disturbance, and sometimes he would be more specific as to source material, as in his 'portraits' of Elvis, Lincoln, Hitler, and the like. The head was now ceaselessly his to adjust, offering it as projected through the filter of electronic media gave him an infinity of extrapolation and emphasis. And Paschke played these core ambiguities like the virtuoso he was, he could slip back and forth between the specific and the generic, clarity and obfuscation, he could name names or suggest types, focus in or focus out, and every gradation in between.

Over the years I heard Ed Paschke give his public lecture on his work about half a dozen times. It was witty and warm, a few good laughs, delivered with the ease of manner that always marked him, unpretentious, casual, and generous, a real entertainment. It had its idiosyncrasies (he used the same slides year after year, some probably decade after decade, and a few were so washed out as to misrepresent the work), and of talking about his work that would emphasize the how rather than the why. Paschke was always ready to talk about formal issues, how he constructed a painting, how he knew when he was finished, etc., but was more reticent about why he tackled certain realms of subject matter. During the Q and A session that followed he would usually fob off questions about his content, talk about the importance of being modern, dealing with electronic media, etc., and with self-deprecating humor deflate the sense that he had any particular agenda at all as an artist. It was his nature - and, by the way, it was his right - to sidestep in public the things (violence, sex, celebrity, myth, isolation, media, etc.) that might have moved him most, or at least to sense that whatever those might be they were non of our business. But Paschke would always perk up when he spoke about the primary responsibility of an artist to engage his or her viewer visually, that the heart of the game was in keeping a viewer in a work, to find ways to overcome visual boredom, to manipulate a surface in such a way that we felt compelled to look a little longer, to keep us in there long enough that some message could be sent and received. He particularly meant this, that in his studio one of the things running through his mind was always to intensify his surfaces, to add another band of imagery, to slip in one more zip of color, to push/pull the viewer in one more direction, to complexify to heighten, and not to walk away from the easel until the pulse actually quickened.

That last bit he always managed to accomplish. A work by Ed Paschke always makes me feel wary, a little unsure of myself, the sense that I am in the presence of something with a little more going on than I am likely to perceive. I can't always figure out why he does the things he does within an image, even while I can appreciate how well those things are managed. He layers, and you can never be certain which layer is going to extend meaning and which will be a little bit more razzle-dazzle. They're often both; a work by Ed Paschke often boldly and overtly announces its subject, its theme, and then sends you on a merry chase after subtle variations and embellishments within it extending and modifying that subject, giving it nuance, shades of difference, unexpected counter themes, all ceaselessly deferring and amending meaning, all keeping the image alive and expectant. I will miss that most of all, that whatever else is said about him, his peregrinations through culture and technology, his construction of modernity and self as filtered through an onslaught of electronic media, his attentiveness to subcultures and the marginalized, it was his respect for and challenge to his viewer that most marked him. Only death could still a hand, an eye, a mind, so fully and forever fresh.

Business Title

Statements by the Artist

Statements by the Artist


Visual media in its varied forms (newspapers, magazines, film and video) has always interested me and, to a great extent, has influenced my work. The manner in which "reality" is transformed and stylized or, more appropriately, the look characteristic to each form has become part of my personal painting style. Perception, or what we experience through our sensory apparatus, is being affected by the rapid acceleration of media-related technology. Our view of the world is changing as the "global environment" expands through media accessibility and the information reservoir gets deeper. My belief is that these elements (good or bad) have woven their way into the collective fabric of our lives. I also believe that any artist always works within the context or conditions that are indigenous to their time and, in doing so, reflects the energy, temperament and attitudes of that climate. My recent paintings have become a kind of orchestration of electronic impulses fluttering between 3-D and 2-D or substance and lack of it. The medium in which I work is oil. This is used in a process employing first an underpainting in black and white followed by a series of glazes (layers of transparent colors). To a degree, this sequence parallels the black and white to color progression in the historical development of printing, film and T.V. images. The substance or subject matter is intentionally non-specific thereby allowing a wider range of interpretations.


Paintings is all about problem solving. The bigger the problems you create yourself, the more resourceful you have to become to resolve it and make it work some how. If when you're working on a painting and everything feels comfortable and cozy and secure and safe than you're probably not doing anything new. You are probably repeating all sorts of old ideas. That frustrated, awkward feeling of not knowing how to solve the problematic area of your work will eventually force you to try something new and this sort of visual orchestration helps to pull you forward as an artist.


The experience of looking at, or digesting a painting has to do with a certain type of energy. The observer of a painting or any sort of art experience or event, when you confront it, when you open yourself up to it, you are in a sense completing the circuit. The painting is sending out various kinds of energy, or levels of information and you as the audience, the person perceiving this, brings to it your own personal baggage or experience, associations, references, biases, prejudices, dislikes. You complete the circuit.


Life is very much about rule-breaking, about confrontation. Otherwise history would just stand still. Someone has to come along and break the rules and try, for whatever reason, to go about things in a different way. Even if it is a simple sense of adventure, a sense of exploration. You explore concepts and things that interest you, but you are also exploring inside of yourself.


Light can be generated by natural or artificial sources. The metaphorical implications of my light sources involve issues of spirituality, technology and the enlightenment both can provide. Illumination occurs within time, as does evolution. In this way they can record the trajectory of history. Our identity is woven into the fabric of surface information that we orchestrate and present to the world.


Dualities in life are omnipresent in my work. Natural versus artificial, night versus day, underwater versus sky, television technology versus the intelligence of a chicken and life versus metaphor. The identity of my subjects exists in relation to their opposites. These relationships comprise a pulse or inner spirit through which tensions and rhythms reveal themselves. Elements taken out of context have a different potential when freed from the constraints of their origins.


My father was my first art teacher. His influence began when my brother Richard and I were very young and impressionable. The magic usually occurred after dinner or on Sunday afternoons while sitting around the kitchen table. Using modeling clay or drawing materials Dad would entertain and inspire us by creating birds, animals and human heads with exaggerated personalities. These performances became contagious. Soon we were imitating his colorful inventions and creating our own cast of characters. Seeing the Disney classic "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" inspired Dad to build a toy box featuring his paintings of Grumpy and Doc. When I saw it I thought my father was, in fact, the real Walt Disney. It was one of many crystallizing experiences that helped lead me down the path toward my own life as an artist.

Third Party Commentary

Third Party Commentary

Karl Wirsum
Artist & Friend

One day back in 1961 Ed brought some old Life Magazine covers to class and as an adjunct to his canvas painting, he proceeded to manipulate the various faces on the covers. I recall the astronauts being one of the first. The resulting imagery was Marcel Duchamp's Mona Lisa meeting Mad Magazine's Michael Jackson in his various permutations.

Jeff Koons
Artist, Friend and Former Studio Assistant

Ed was like a big brother. All of the desire of looking for art to bring transcendence into my life, Ed represented that. Ed's work tells intellectual ideas yet goes BAM! Right to your nervous system as it enters your body. His paintings are so visually strong they consume you physically.

Lori-Gunn Wirsum
Artist & Friend

Ed could have been a performer: a comic or storyteller. He always had an amusing or strange anecdote to relate, delivered with that characteristic raised eyebrow and easy smile. Possessed of great personal charm, Ed seemed to hold a bemused, non-judgmental and reflectively philosophical attitude toward life and humanity. An interested observer and recorder as well as an adventurous participator in all things human and creative from the bizarre to the banal, he often combined the two in his art. He seemed to bank experience and images for later use as art or story. Behind his seemingly removed observer persona and immersion in his art however, was a kind heart as shown through empathetic accessibility and service to others, especially his family, students and younger artists. Ed was a study in contrasts and enigma; just like his work. He will be remembered as a great artist, a great husband, a great father and a great guy.

William Conger
Professor Of Art Northwestern University
Artist & Friend

Ed Paschke was a painter of the human figure, often the single figure, and most often in his later years, the human face. He painted the inner figure, the inner face, that innermost conscious self, that vulnerable soft clay with which life has had its way and where foolish affectations and useless defenses have left their traces as masks, tattoos, and war-paint colors. As his paintings and other work make plain, he was attracted to the weird, to the very strange, and to the criminal, not only for their taboo appeal but because such extremes exposed hidden flaws - the broken gears deep in the machine of civilization - that can afflict us all. It is that inevitability of something going wrong and having provoked extravagant defenses of fragile inner selves that lies at the root of Ed Paschke's profound sympathy for his fellow humans. Even his paintings of icons, real and symbolic, delicately break through frozen idealism of Rushmore-like personas to show their skittish apprehensions - the lived experiences.


Yet Ed's sympathy was never mawkish. He was a humorist with a refined sense of the comic in everyday life. Yes, Ed was a very funny man! Often caustic in his opinions he was nevertheless always forgiving as well. A contradiction? Of course! Contradiction, paradox, conundrum and dilemma were the crux of Ed Paschke's art. He put together the hilarious and the prophetic, the stupid and the wise, the joyful and the deadly; if we do not understand that we cannot understand his art. His spheres of reference were large and multiple. His art drew widely from high culture, popular culture, and low culture. His ideas commingled cutting edge issues in philosophy, economics, or History with those of vulgar tastes, barstool jokes, the drug scene, and hard rock music. He hung out with big name leaders, ordinary folks, artists, and genuine bums. He mixed with them but they rarely knew of each other. Ed kept aloof, even when he was most engaged in his very lively social milieu and certainly when he was in his studio. Regardless of context --among friends, teaching, or painting -- he was enveloped in a solitude that gave him the spectator's advantage to both share experiences and evaluate them simultaneously. He often said he was acting like a filter to society and life, like a roving newspaper photographer or reporter who simply shows what has been stopped in his vision. Perhaps that is why Ed painted so carefully with exacting nuances -- deep pools and tiny filaments of color. He examined his specimens with the affection and curiosity of a scientist who is wonderstruck and questioning. In fact, I believe that Ed would want us to see his art in that way, too.

Anthony Jones
President , The School Of The Art Institute Of Chicago

He was a Chicagoan through and through. Since the founding of the city he is without a doubt, one of the most singularly important artists to have worked here

Lois Weisberg
Commissioner, Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Chicago

With the death of Ed Paschke we have lost so much more than a breathtakingly daringand powerfully talented artist, we have lost a friend, an advocate, a teacher and a mentor. Ed Paschke represented the best of Chicago. He was open and accessible, generous and down to earth. He was dedicated to his family and to his community.

John Yau
Art Critic & Poet

Long before the internet, there was Ed Paschke. He showed us what we were headed for, what we were about to become, what had already quietly transpired. In the late 1960s and 70s by transforming his interest in the outward manifestations of individuality�tattoos, scarification, bodily accessories and elaborate costumes - into a lush, disturbing, visual vocabulary, he was able to confront the viewer with portraits of those who feel most at home in the deepest, most hidden chambers lining society's multi-leveled underground. Paschke's masked, marked figures weren't simply the latest round of outsiders. Rather than trying to become accepted by the mainstream society, they had elected to become citizens in a world that, in its self-sufficiency, largely ignores all others.

Ken Nordine
Artist, Famous Voice & Friend

Ed once told me about the three paintings he was working on, all at the same time, all works in progress. He told me he had to wait for each canvas to tell him what to do next. This complex involvement in the moment made talking with him a joy, a towering talent of extraordinary insight and humility. He left us the essence of his insight, his conscience, his "agenbit of inwit."

Phyllis Kind
Phyllis Kind Gallery, New York, New York

His work was energizing - like a wave, it would rush over with an electric jolt…! Yes! - It was mysterious and to varying extremes, ominous. Awash with color painstakingly applied brush- stroke by brush stroke. Atavistic but of the moment, exquisitely pre-destined yet improvisational at the same time. An active surface and even more active and forever changing spatial dimensions.

Ed had an innate awareness of color value whether transforming shades of a black and white photograph into its negative or asizing color values which were absolutely correspondent to the grays therein. A cursory glance at the negative of one of his icon paintings would immediately disclose the identity of the person obscured by the color. Ed never stopped growing- challenging himself: "You have to go forward, you have to go…. Without him, the world's a meaner, smaller place…

Phil Wicklander
Former President Of The Union League Club of Chicago

Ed Paschke was the first painter ever elected as a "Distinguished Artist" member of the Union League Club Of Chicago. While collaborating with Ed on a catalog for his December 1998 show combining his work with the wood carvings of his late father Edward Sr., I realized that the bond Ed developed with people as they went through his life was an extension of the tremendous relationship he had with his father. Paschke, Sr. was his first art teacher and mentor. To Ed Jr., Dad was Walt Disney. This relationship built the foundation of how Ed could be so much on the cutting edge of social, cultural and religious values while at the same time be as caring, generous , dependable and professional of a human being that I ever had the privilege of knowing.

Dennis Adrian
Art Critic and Historian

Artists of genius are rare species and often difficult to know and to understand fully since some of their qualities outstrip ordinary experiences and expectations. A genius such as Ed Paschke was no exception to this generalization although he was by no means unsociable or difficult to talk to. It wasn't hard to establish an amicable connection with im but the full person had depths and complexities which were not immediately apparent and he seems to have deliberately screened some of this inner life in order to consentrate it in his remarkable paintings, prints and objects.

Paschke had a remarkable gift of invention in his imagery, style and compositions. And, his working method (which was one of steady and intense application supported by that invaluable gift to the artist - stamina) presents creative innovations in brushwork, a remarkable color sense, an uncanny ability to deal freshly with the effects of light and an incisive wit and irony.

First impressions of Paschke's work perhaps led many to regard him as merely the explorer of low-life street types, freaks, and theatrical bizzareries. Certainly Paschke's overt subjects are sensational and provocative but they are invariably only the armature for complex explorations of metaphysical considerations of the nature of visual imagery and symbolism and revealing probes of issues of painterly construction, composition, questions about the ambiguous nature of painting as imagery and pure form and a host of other important artistic issues. These sides of Paschke's work deserve fuller attention, study and interprative investigation we are to begin to grasp fully the depth and importance it presents.

Paschke had great gifts of generosity, compassion, unfailing kindness, patience amd a modesty of the most authentic kind - one that came from self knowledge and personal integration of the mind and soul. His virtues as a sustaining family man to his wife and children and as a friend to many were exceptional in their strngth and consistency: this is perhaps a kind of spiritual genius which Paschke let us experience in addtition to his art.

Tony Fitzpatrick
Artist and Friend

There is a hole in Chicago where Ed Paschke used to be . I notice it every day. It wakes up with me and the void is there when I turn out the lights at night. I knew Ed for 20 years and he was as constant as the rain and he worked like a locomotive. For those of us who were coming up in his shadow, -- he was always there and his advice to us was always the same -- and always right: Work Harder. Get out there in life and get dirty - even if it bruises you. Know that there is always the other side.

You'd see Ed everywhere - he was good at seeing the whole landscape; and those who inhabited it. When I first saw his work , I began to think of him as the Nightwatchman. The one who saw in life what the rest of us would rather not notice: Pimp culture, Trans-gender apparitions, and insectile whores - visions from the other side of the billboards. Our other selves. Like Algren, Like Zola, Like Goya�yet unlike anything else. Ed Paschke was singular, and over the 20 years I knew him - he only got better.

Ed used to tell me that for every real piece of art you make - you give up something of yourself; that this, was the price of the ticket. Art-making, in the end , costs you your life. He would say it with that Ed-laugh. That grave-yard laugh that let you know there was nothing funny about it at all.

He was the most generous person I ever knew . Ed came to your opening. Ed shook your hand. Ed wrote the thoughtful note when you lost a parent. Ed gave it to you straight. Ed told you to think more of yourself, and if you whined or bitched, Ed told you to grow the fuck up.

I've never seen the Grand Canyon. People who have seen it tell me that it is one of those things in life that never disappoints you - that it really is ALL -that. Even artists tell me this - that, as canyons go - it is the best of its kind.

That is what knowing Ed Paschke was like

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