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The Lewis & Clark Colorization Project

At the time of his death on Thanksgiving morning 2004, Ed Paschke had completed roughly one-third of the two largest paintings of his career. The paintings, both 80" x 100" canvas panels, were a commission sponsored by Lewis and Clark College and the State Of Illinois to commemorate the two-hundredth anniversary of the expedition of Lewis and Clark. While the under-painting, or black and white composition of the paintings, had been clearly defined, the color scheme to be applied to the two canvasses had yet to be determined. No notes on what he planned to do next were found.

Paschke's death presented a significant problem to both the sponsors and the family; what should be done with the unfinished panels? While the sponsors of the commission considered displaying the two panels as is, the Paschke family did not feel this would have been consistent with their Father's wishes given that he had never publicly displayed a painting without his signature colors. Similarly, both parties were against any other person, such as another artist, altering the original canvases in any way. After hours of discussion with various artists and friends, the artist's son, Marc Paschke, developed the idea of applying the color digitally. This would allow for the original panels to remain "as is" while providing limitless possible outcomes to the panels regarding color.

Teaming up with the creative and technical masterminds behind the Millennium Park Fountain Projection Installations, including John Manning and Alan Labb from the School Of The Art Institute of Chicago, and John Banks from Columbia College, Marc Paschke and the project team developed a plan to "digitally colorize" the panels. In essence, this would create a new work of art constructed entirely of still images and image fragments of Ed Paschke's paintings, animated and brought to "digital life."

By first analyzing over 300 paintings sampling Paschke's 40-plus year career for colors, color patterns, specific patterning techniques and transitional color variations, and then by digitizing these elements, signature Paschke characteristics were isolated to incorporate and apply to the Lewis and Clark panels. Additionally, each of the black and white original panels was dissected into some 15-16 prominent visual elements, which were subsequently stored as separate digitized layers so that each could be manipulated independently. Each element was then "painted" using Photoshop to build up an average of four layers of color blended in various ways to achieve the final color and texture effects. Patterns and textures applied to the visual objects were a combination of newly painted elements and older features derived from existing paintings. Finally, by applying these prototypes into animation sequences utilizing After Effects, the final programs were determined.

Given the visceral impact of his work, the presentation of the colorized panels is as important as the substantive composite of the works. Initial plans of projecting the colors on to the original black and white panels proved unsatisfactory because of the lack of clarity of the projected colors along with logistical problems in setting up and maintaining the installation. In order to achieve the aesthetic quality and luminosity required by Paschke's art, the largest high definition plasma screens currently available were chosen to house the project. Equally as cutting edge, the colorization was authored on a high definition DVD using a process virtually untapped in any forum.

As you watch the eighteen-minute program you will see three distinct segments. Each segment was designed to recapture the visual style of Paschke that marked an important phase of his career and evolution as an artist. Each segment contains a reference image around which the video sequence is organized and to which it evolves. Once that reference image is reached, usually signified by a quick white "flare," the evolutionary process is completed for that segment. The image then holds long enough for the viewer to appreciate the recognizable elements of that Paschke "era" before the process continues and slowly and subtly morphs into the next reference image. This continues until all three segments are complete on each panel.

Obviously, these plasma screens installations are not paintings or Ed Paschke originals, nor are they trying to be. More specifically, we have no real idea what decisions Ed Paschke would have made to complete these panels. What made him a unique and vital artist was his ability to make creative decisions unlike anyone else. Compounding the challenge is that all the reference material did not generally include anything of a similar compositional makeup. In addition, the way in which the two panels interacted that had to be considered, along with the effects of motion and time, two elements not normally relevant for a non-changing medium such as a painting.

Collectively, we hope this installation simply posits the question of "what if?" What if Paschke had finished these two panels? What would they look like? What elements in his arsenal would he have utilized and which ones would he have passed over? Moreover, what if he had done this same project back in the 1980s? Would he have completely distorted the recognizable elements of the subjects of the panels or would he have treated them like he did other iconic historical images? Hopefully, the two colorized panels, along with your imagination, provide you with some possibilities and some possible answers to these questions. Hopefully, watching this transformation of colors gives you a better appreciation of the processes, techniques and genius that Ed Paschke brought to the canvas.

Marc Paschke: Project Director/The Ed Paschke Foundation
John Manning: Technical and Creative Director/School of the Art Institute of Chicago
John Banks: Creative Director/National University, San Diego, CA
Alan Labb: Executive Producer/School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Gabriel Feijoo: Creative Consultant/The Ed Paschke Foundation

Watch The Final Version of The Lewis & Clark Colorization Project here

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