For Paschke, art is just a matter of perspective | AspenTimes.com
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For Paschke, art is just a matter of perspective

Stewart Oksenhorn

For Ed Paschke, notions of art and political confrontation have existed alongside each other for decades. In the Army in the early ’60s, where he attained the rank of corporal, Paschke was an illustrator who prepared maps and graphs – and training aids instructing soldiers in the techniques of warfare: “Kind of like pop-art explanations of how to throw a hand grenade,” he said from his home in Chicago.When Paschke got out of the Army in 1964, art remained intertwined with social issues and conflict. The war in Vietnam was heating up, and while Paschke put his mind to art, most of his colleagues in a silk-screening class at the Art Institute of Chicago did not share his focus. “Most of them were out making picket signs,” he noted. Paschke absorbed the issues raised by his wayward fellow students. To him, the issues were principally about identity. Lines were drawn – around the assassination of President Kennedy, around Vietnam – and it became important for Paschke to explore these divides, to make art that allowed viewers to consider just where they stood. His well-known 1968 painting “Purple Ritual,” for instance, featured an image of Lee Harvey Oswald, holding a gun, surrounded by American stars and stripes. The purpose was not to push a political agenda – much of Paschke’s work has a definitive neutrality to it – but to push buttons, to make people see what perspectives they brought to the art. “Purple Ritual,” said Paschke, was neither pro- nor anti-American, but intended to question national values: “It’s the juxtaposition of the freedoms we all enjoy, and how people exercise them. That’s the price you pay for all the larger freedoms we all enjoy – you can’t control everything,” he said.As politics took a back seat in American life in the wake of Vietnam, Paschke, too, altered course. The work was still involved in questions of identity. But it was filtered through ideas of the media, technology and spirituality.As American life has become intensely and noticeably political again, Paschke is making work that reminds him n see Paschke on page B8

— continued from page B7of his Vietnam-era paintings. His latest series, now showing at the David Floria Gallery, once more creates dividing lines. There are images of guns and Osama bin Laden, masked faces and military garb. “They’re influenced by the atmosphere of confrontation we live in,” said the 65-year-old Paschke.Paschke is still more interested in raising questions than in demonizing. In “With God on Our Side,” bin Laden is framed by ornamental Islamic patterns; the title and image convey the reality that a section of the world – millions of people, actually – believe bin Laden, the evildoer in President George W. Bush’s parlance, fights in the name of God. The title of “Bang Bang,” for instance, is written in backward text over a dark, menacing face, forcing us to examine our perspective.”Which side are we on?” asked Paschke, referring to “Bang Bang.” “Are we saying these things? Is it saber-rattling posturing? Or is someone saying it to us, threatening us?”We live in a culture of symbols, iconic elements that signal us one way or another. Like a Rorschach test. It’s what you bring to the equation. What it’s intended to do is for you to see what your point of view is. Or that any point of view could be flip-flopped. It’s about the interchangeability of points of view, depending on one’s perspective.”

“Sundance” addresses a different, but perhaps related topic. The piece is of an American Indian, his headdress decorated with the symbols and colors of the United States. Behind the empty eye sockets can be seen a clear blue sky.”The whole image of the sky makes you think – is this an apparition? Does it really exist?” said Paschke. “My hope is to provoke thoughts of how are we connected to the issues of patriotism. Is it an accumulation of empty symbols? Or is there weight and depth behind it?”While Paschke’s current work is more confrontational than it has been in decades, there are threads that link all of his work. There is the glowing, surreal colors, usually in green and gold, that make his work identifiable. There are masks, American iconography, and the expressionless, often featureless faces. And there is the continuing theme of identity: who and what we identify with, and what those identifications make us.But in the latest series, there is also the indication that Paschke is not resting comfortably on his achievements, that he is still looking to provoke and instigate dialogue.”What artists generally do is telescope out,” he said. “One foot on the shoreline, where you’ve been before, and with the other stretching out into the unknown. You have to have that combination of security and risk.”

Ed Paschke: New Paintings opens at the David Floria Gallery with a reception on Saturday, Aug. 14, from 68 p.m. The show runs through Sept. 1.Paschke will present a slide lecture on Tuesday, Aug. 17, at 7:30 p.m. at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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