V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





To confound direct relationships to their chosen objects of inspiration, 
and to also perhaps elevate the status of these objects in a classic Surrealist 
gesture to disorient the viewer, the Imagists adopted a labor-intensive, 
amazingly meticulous technique.  The surfaces of  Paschkeâs works, 
for example, are seamless, entirely without evident gesture.  What is most 
important in Imagist work is, as the movementâs name suggests, the image 
which, because of its clarity and the exquisite craftsmanship of its making, 
demonstrates an aura of believability and an almost sacred quality.  The fact 
that the subject is so fanciful and idiosyncratic produces a curious 
and challenging visual puzzle ...

Strano, a 1997 oil on canvas painting by the Chicago artist Ed Paschke, is one of the Brauer Museumâs most popular works, due not only to its bold, striking colors, but also to its enigmatic subject that seems to arise from a dreamlike electronic world.  The disembodied, mask-like face in Strano is surrounded by an array of puzzling images that, in their repetition, form a patterned backdrop.  The origin, nature, or precise symbolism of these images is not immediately clear as these background elements were most likely drawn from the artistâs individual experiences or even subconscious.  Those that are recognizable are placed in such an unusual new context that their old meanings or associations are no longer entirely relevant.  While Strano is clearly portrait, due to the prominence of the central face and the hand that 
directs the viewerâs eye to that face, it is not a portrait of a recognizable person (although Paschkeâs figural pieces do frequently originate from his initially faithful transcription of a magazine or book reproduction, often depicting a celebrity or historical figure).  Rather, the stylized visage, placed in a field of graphic signs or emblems, serves as a portrait of the artist himself.  That is, the viewer adds up the numerous visual clues in Strano and soon realizes 
that the painting is a summary on a small scale of the artistâs central themes and concerns. 
     Paschkeâs work is usually spoken of as belonging to the stylistic category or movement known as Chicago Imagism.  Chicago Imagism originated in the late 1960âs with a number of artists from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago who shared an interest in exploring for 
source material for their art products of popular culture (such as comic books and wrestling magazines), work by folk or outsider artists, works of Surrealist art, and cultural artifacts from non-western societies (often seen and experienced by the Imagists at Chicagoâs Field Museum).  To confound direct relationships to their chosen objects of inspiration, and to also perhaps elevate the status of these objects in a classic Surrealist gesture to disorient the viewer, the Imagists adopted a labor-intensive, amazingly meticulous technique.  The surfaces of  Paschkeâs works, for example, are seamless, entirely without evident gesture.  What is most important in Imagist work is, as the movementâs name suggests, the image which, because of its clarity and the exquisite craftsmanship of its making, demonstrates an aura of believability and 
an almost sacred quality.  The fact that the subject is so fanciful and idiosyncratic produces a curious and challenging visual puzzle; what initially arose from such low-brow or eccentric sources is every bit as substantial technically and metaphorically as any classically representational work, or any work arising from purely fine art considerations.  The Imagists were able to manipulate and polish their intensely introspective thoughts and highly personal bodies of imagery into works that are fascinatingly, surprisingly, entertainingly transcendent.
     The title Strano is not directly related to the subject; at least, an understanding of who or what Strano is is not essential to the understanding of the picture.  Paschke will often choose titles that either are or sound like Spanish, French, or Japanese.  The exotic sounds of these titles are meant to aid the viewer in his shift of mental state, so that the viewer is prepared to see the exotic, the unreal, the unfamiliar, brought about by the recasting of familiar elements.  Because of the delicate fingers, the colored nails, and the gesture of the hand to a corner of the eye, one would fairly assume that the portrait face was originally (before Paschkeâs extensive, 
imaginative reworking) based upon a photograph of a stylish female, perhaps found by the artist in a glamour magazine.  Any sense of reference to the real world, however, was eliminated when Paschke made various artistic decisions to leave out or modify those details in the original source picture that seemed to interfere with what he decided to be central or key to the pictureâs meaning.  The faceâs eyes, for instance, have been replaced with bell or shell-like forms, similar in appearance to the bell forms that the Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte 
sometimes included in his paintings.  (For an example of this bell form, see his 1936 canvas La Lecture Defanse ou LâUsage de la Parole.  Magritte is certainly a significant influence on Paschke; Magritteâs 1928 painting The Lovers must have been the motivation for various 
hooded forms Paschke has used throughout his career).  The faceâs mouth has been replaced by spots and lines that seem to glow with energy, much like the random electronic firings one sees on a television screen or computer monitor.  This effect of electric or digital colored light 
affecting portions of the face has been a common component of Paschkeâs work since the late 1970âs and may relate both to Paschkeâs interests in the appearance of televised images and a possible commentary by the artist on manâs identity in the modern age.  It should be noted here that Paschke is interested only in the illusion of electronic light; he does not use a computer or projector to generate his work.  Rather, his paintings and drawings are done entirely free-hand, a fact which is further testimony to his skills as a draftsman.  The Mickey Mouses that seem to dance across the face are a visual reference to the tattooed figures so central to Paschkeâs early work.  In addition, they provide another level of pictorial reference, contrasting in their boldness and abstraction with the very different kind of abstraction seen in the portrait face.  Mickey Mouse, in Stranoâs context, may not be primarily important as an individual character, but more as an easily recognized indicator or representative of a cartoonâs visual shorthand. Perhaps also, in the cyberspace of the painting, the floating Mickey Mouse figures can be thought of as pieces of electronic detritus, drifting through and attaching themselves to a solid form that holds them in place. 
     The symbols that surround the central face point to even more types or modes of representation.  The simplified bird forms to the right of the face, for example, are based on carved, wooden folk art birds that Paschkeâs father, Ed Paschke Sr., produced for many years.  Thus, these bird images introduce another layer of artistic style to Stranoâs surface and also serve as a subtle homage to the artistâs father.  The generalized, repeated male profile has the anonymous quality that one would associate with some sort of instructional public sign; the 
exclamation points within these profiles seem to reinforce a public, instructional interpretation, since they communicate by their nature a general feeling but have no specific application.  The picture of the Native American headdressed figure, almost unseen in the left-hand purplish-red portion of the painting, seems to relate stylistically to ancient petroglyphs or drawings by Native Americans in pictographs on paper or hide.  Whatever the original source or inspiration for this obscured image, it provides an additional representational style to contrast with the numerous other picture-making approaches seen in Strano. 
     In Paschkeâs surreal work from the Brauerâs collection, an image most likely from a popular culture source is transformed by Paschkeâs selective transformative eye and hand.  To add complexity and richness to the environment of this central bizarre personage, the artist adds forms that relate and refer to other visual products in the world that have personal significance for the artist.  The resulting portrait, lit by a glowing technicolor that exists only in the virtual, televised, and imaginative realms may be composite in nature, built from a variety of source materials.  It appears to the viewer, however, as satisfyingly complete and silently urging him to unlock the mysteries in its pictorial depths.

© by Gregg Hertzlieb


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