Artist Paul Pascarella comes home to Aspen’s Gonzo Gallery
If You Go …
What: Paul Pascarella, ‘Gonzo Deconstructed’
Where: Gonzo Gallery
When: Through March 25
More info: www.gonzogallery.com
Paul Pascarella spent much of December immersing himself in his time in Aspen during its drop-out heyday, from the late 1960s to the early ’80s. It was here and then that he got his start as a graphic artist and abstract painter, and where he designed Hunter S. Thompson’s iconic gonzo fist logo in 1970.
Recovering from eye surgery late last year, Pascarella — now based in Taos, New Mexico — read Thompson’s work, talked to old Aspen friends and conjured memories to prepare himself for a new body of work about exploring the meaning of “gonzo” through the life and work of his old friend Thompson. The 18 resulting pieces are now on view at the Gonzo Gallery in an exhibition titled “Gonzo Redefined.” Most of the new paintings already had “sold” stickers on them Tuesday night, as Pascarella gave a walk-through of the show.
The concept had originally been for just five pieces, expanding on Pascarella’s large-scale “Hunter’s World” painting, which he made shortly after Thompson’s death in 2005. But as Gonzo Gallery director D.J. Watkins and Pascarella talked about the project and Pascarella got to work, it expanded.
Pascarella said he began putting paint to canvas in January with a last-minute, deadline-flouting spirit in keeping with the gonzo tradition. For 15 hours a day, for the better part of two months, he painted and printed and tore through collage material, as the scope and ambition of the show grew.
“Instead of doing the five pieces, I did all these pieces — I just found clues that led me into different places,” Pascarella said.
Some of the work is directly about Thompson, using collages of photos of him, gonzo iconography, clips of faxed correspondence in his hand and — in “Hunter’s Night Ride” — a long passage of his writing from “Hell’s Angels.”
The non-figurative sprawl of Pascarella’s “Gonzo Journalism Deconstructed” includes a quote from Thompson about police brutality at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and a Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office patch with a halo above it.
“You just look for little things that will reach for the next place,” Pascarella said of the painting. “That’s when the magic starts to happen.”
Some are less literally about Thompson — alluding to him by using his “shotgun art” style in blasting apart images of Mickey Mouse and Richard Nixon.
Pascarella’s gonzo design, with its familiar double-thumbed fist holding a peyote button atop a dagger and the word “GONZO,” makes an appearance in a few of the new works. In “Gonzo Journalism,” three yellow prints of it sit against a red background above an image of a keyboard and a pasted image of Che Guevara with a bullet hole and paint splatter just off-center.
In “Woody Creek,” Pascarella offers an abstracted portrait of his and Thompson’s ’70s milieu in acrylic paint and collage — the gonzo fist, mug shots of Nixon, the target from Thompson and Tom Benton’s “The American Dream” wall poster, American flags, Mickey Mouse and Guevara swirl around a rough yellow profile of Thompson.
In making this new body of work, Pascarella said he had some breakthroughs that will inform his abstract work outside of the gonzo and Thompson realm. Before packing up the paintings to bring them to Aspen, an artist friend suggested he see what the large format “Gonzo Journalism Deconstructed” would look like if he placed it between two of the panels in a massive triptych installation. He tried it and something clicked for him.
“(It was) just as a lark,” he said. “Then I went ‘whoa,’ I’ve been looking for that for a long time — now I can make 30 panels and incorporate a whole new element into the abstract painting. And that just came out of this project.”
Spending a week in Aspen to open a show at the Gonzo — Pascarella’s first exhibition here since Thompson’s death — he said he was heartened to see the counterculture finding a foothold again in Aspen and in an art gallery like the Gonzo.
“It’s been so great to see my old friends and have all this support and revisit it,” he said. “I feel like it’s a lot like it used to be, which I don’t want to say was better. But it was.”
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