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The Hunter influence

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Weekly
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

Hunter S. Thompson’s 2005 suicide left in its wake no small bit of wrangling over the writer’s estate, a spate of books and articles, and the most spectacular funeral the Roaring Fork Valley will ever witness. And rivaling the 153-foot fist-and-peyote button tower from which his ashes were disseminated for a significant legacy was Thompson’s fierce commitment to freedom of expression.

In the three years since Thompson’s death, Paul Pascarella has felt the ghostly hand of his late friend on his work. Upon hearing the news from Thompson’s Owl Farm, Pascarella’s first instinct was to rush from Taos, where he has lived since the early ’80s, to Woody Creek. He was advised to take his time, that things in Hunter-land were chaotic ” much more so than usual. So Pascarella, who had been buddies with Thompson since 1968, the year they both moved to the valley, went with his second instinct and began to make art.

“And I worked with a freedom I don’t usually have with the oils,” said Pascarella, a 63-year-old New Jersey native who lived in Aspen from 1968-80. “Because I didn’t care who saw it, or what it looked like. I was just working out of that intense emotional state of Hunter shooting himself. I just worked with whatever was in the studio ” charcoal, pictures, lettering, some of my abstract pattern language.”



The most immediate result of the heightened emotions was “Hunter’s World,” a collage of images (Dunhill cigarette package; the quote, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro,” several iconic caricatures of Thompson) and materials in black-and-white. There was an accompanying short film, also titled “Hunter’s World,” that Pascarella made about the piece. A more remote, but more profound effect has been an enduring sense of freedom in Pascarella’s art, and eventually a new direction.

The shift has been slow in coming. Pascarella stashed “Hunter’s World” away and went back to his customary methods. Six months later, he pulled out the piece to show to a group of workshop students, and the response was palpable. He reassessed the piece and the potential it held for breaking out of a low-level stagnation that Pascarella only noticed in hindsight.




“On one side of my studio I had my oils on the wall. On the other side was the film, with dialogue about freedom of expression in creating the piece,” he said. “I thought there was some kind of freedom in the Hunter piece that wasn’t happening in my regular oils.”

Pascarella occasionally experimented with the mixed-media style of “Hunter’s World.” But it felt halfhearted and overly intentional. So mostly he just allowed that incongruity between the two types of work to soak in. Last summer, it began to flow into his work with less effort.

Only one of the subsequent pieces ” “Owl Farm,” marked by a bull’s-eye ” uses Thompson as a specific reference. His hand is on other pieces only in the fresh creative burst that Pascarella has experienced. The colors ” lots more black-and-white, echoing “Hunter’s World” ” and imagery and materials are strong departures from his recent past.

At the same time he has been freed up to revisit old ideas with new eyes. “Migration” recalls the Pascarella’s geese series of the mid-’80s. Old monotypes have been recycled and embellished with elements of paint and mixed media. Some pieces are divided ” one part devoted to the old style of monochromatic color field oils, the other to the new mixed-media style. “Chief” reflects on Pascarella’s longtime concern, frequently reflected in his work, with issues of the American Indian. Here, a collage element ” a pack of American Spirit cigarettes; a painted aspect, a spectral, barely-there face of an Indian under a headdress ” reflects the “fading away of the native American people I know, the exploitation of the American Indian.”

Of “Birthday Bones,” Pascarella says, “You can see the freedom. It’s got collage, a road map of Aspen, numbers. It’s all these things coming out in their own way.

“You know how crazy Hunter always was, and erratic. I think he may have lent a little of that into my well-developed procedure. I’d been creating my own way of working for 25, 30 years, with oil, wax, rollers, scrapers. That had the potential of being free. But that emotional impact allowed me to break the borders in which I was working.”

Pascarella, whose past includes doing extensive commercial graphic design work in New York and Los Angeles, unveils his new direction in Aspen. An exhibit of new works, including “Hunter’s World” and the related video, shows at Magidson Fine Art through March 22. It is Pascarella’s first Aspen show in five years, and a vast departure from his past.

Best of all for the artist, the reawakening continues to unfold. The newest piece in the show ” titled either “Dust Devil” or “Dancing with Chaos,” he is not sure yet ” reveals Pascarella continuing to push forward. It is bigger and more sparse than most of the recent works, and reflects the next step in his thinking on materials and composition. It is calmer than the other pieces, perhaps indicating that Pascarella is settling into something.

“It started with chaos,” said Pascarella, speaking of the specific piece, but also hinting at the entire process since Thompson’s death. “But it’s starting to ease into this overall rhythm. It’s taking on a beauty and rhythm. Something musical, almost.”

stewart@aspentimes.com