Ed Paschke Art Center: Art That Jolts the Senses

The Ed Paschke Art Center, located in the heart of Jefferson Park, is a must-see destination not only for those who already love Paschke’s art, but for those who would like to experience his work for the first time. The bright, airy center includes 2,800 square feet of gallery space and 1,700 square feet of educational space. On display are about 40 of his works from different periods and styles — mostly paintings (oil on linen), but also prints and lithographs, and PHSColograms (combining sculpture with photography, resulting in a three-dimensional photograph). His Rogers Park studio, where he worked from 1980 until his death in 2004, is also recreated with meticulous detail. The son of Polish immigrants, Ed Paschke was born in Chicago in 1939 and spent the majority of his life on Chicago’s Northwest side. He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in fine arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and for a brief period in his early career he became affiliated with a group of artists known as the Chicago Imagists. Ed Paschke, Captigon, 1983. Oil on linen. Photo courtesy of the Ed Paschke Art Center. Ed Paschke, Captigon, 1983. Oil on linen. Photo courtesy of the Ed Paschke Art Center. Paschke was known for his use of bright, neon colors and emotionless figures from various subcultures that brought an ominous element to Pop Art. Early in his career, Paschke made collage-like paintings of pop archetypes, such as pin-ups, boxers, and musicians decorated with masks and tattoos. Over time, his compositions were stripped down to a single figure, and with his vibrant use of colors and intricate patterns, Paschke depicted the grittiness of urban life. “Ed’s art is visionary and timeless. He had a huge influence on numerous artists when he was alive and continues to have an impact on emerging artists as well,” said Vesna Stelcer, chairperson of the Ed Paschke Art Center. Paschke’s work is in numerous private collections throughout the world and also in major museums, including The Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York,  and The Hirschhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. Paschke also taught art and art history at Chicago's Northwestern University for 27 years and had a notable influence on his best-known student, Jeff Koons. In an interview with The New York Times, Koons said, ''Ed Paschke taught me what it meant to be a professional artist. His paintings are like drugs, but in a good way: they are among the strongest physical images that I've ever seen. They affect you neurologically.'' Ed Paschke, American Sueno, 2002. Oil on linen. Photo courtesy of the Ed Paschke Art Center. Ed Paschke, American Sueno, 2002. Oil on linen. Photo courtesy of the Ed Paschke Art Center. The Ed Paschke Art Center opened on June 22, 2014, which would have been Paschke's 75th birthday. Besides showcasing Paschke’s work, the center also has a lower level that is a rotating exhibition space dedicated to exhibiting works by local artists. Currently, in the lower level is a new exhibit, The Mind’s I, that acts as an exhibition in progress — it is an ongoing drawing project where artist Anne Harris invites a broad range of artists to draw self-portraits in the gallery space — transforming the gallery into an open studio where visitors are invited to observe the creative process in action. The goal is to have 100 self-portraits completed by March 5 — they will then be all on display through April 8. Visitors can also watch a 30-minute video that gives insights into Paschke’s life as an artist. The video has an intimate feel, acting more like a home movie than as a straight-ahead documentary.  The video shows Paschke in different settings — interacting with his students in an art class, working in his studio space, acting as a tour guide of sorts in the Rogers Park neighborhood where his studio was located, and talking with his wife, Nancy, as they relax on the back deck of their home. The center also hosts a monthly music series. Visitors not only get the chance to hear guest musicians play their music, but also hear them talk about the creative process of song writing. Interior view. Photo courtesy of the Ed Paschke Art Center. Interior view of the Center. Photo courtesy of the Ed Paschke Art Center. The location of the center is just steps from the Jefferson Park transportation center. This makes it easily accessible by the UP/NW Metra Line, CTA Blue Line and numerous Pace and CTA bus routes. “We thought Jefferson Park was the perfect location for the center because it’s a working class neighborhood and Ed identified with working class people,” said Stelcer. Besides the many Chicagoans who have visited the center, the gallery has also had visitors from throughout the U.S. and around the world. In late May of this year, the gallery will display a number of Paschke’s paintings that have never been exhibited at the center. In collaboration with the Hall Art Foundation, the Ed Paschke Center will be bringing the Ashmolean Exhibition to the Center. “We’re excited about this exhibition,” said Stelcer. “Over 20 of Paschke’s paintings will be exhibited for the first time at the center. This will be a great opportunity for people to see even more of his artistic genius.” Paschke often said that he wanted his paintings to penetrate the viewer’s nervous system — hoping to provoke an emotional response. He was also a strong believer that people should interpret his art on their own terms. Paschke summed it up best when he once said, “They either love it or hate it, but rarely are they indifferent to it.” The Ed Paschke Art Center is located at 5415 W. Higgins Ave. Admission is free. Hours: Daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Phone: 312-533-4911. (The Ed Paschke Art Center is supported by the Rabb Family Foundation and grants from Bank of America.)
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Thomas Wawzenek