New York

Ed Paschke

Phyllis Kind Gallery

The notion of distortion has been a key idea in nearly all of Ed Paschke’s work, although its ways and means have taken various twists and turns. The early paintings, while executed in a highly realistic manner, showed physically unconventional human beings—androgynous transvestites, deformed circus exhibitionists, outrageous pinups and porno stars. The second stage of Paschke’s development continued to feature such types as pimps, prostitutes, and show people, those who only come out at night; these grotesque beauties, however, were more stylistically caricatured, and the technique of distortion became one of stylistic interpretation rather than selection of subject.

By 1977, Paschke’s stylistic distortions had attained a new plateau with the introduction of what appeared to be electronically generated television images. It looked as if he were reproducing TV pictures with the color knob set at the maximum, the tint control tuned too far up in the green and violet range, and differentiated areas interrupted by interference from an electronic storm that was producing fuzzy double images, horizontal rolls, static, and all manner of other glitches. Paschke made use of certain arrangements of electronic textures to juxtapose fields of abstract patterns with a race of bizarre, half-disintegrating ghost figures and out-of-focus phantoms. Disembodied energy fragments of what were once human images, these figures took on a disquieting, zombielike life of their own. The artist seemed to be saying that we’ve created monsters in our own image who are all the more terrifying because they retain the respectable suits and ties of their former lives. Like the figures in his earlier work, these protean humanoids, bristling and crackling with malevolent energy, are both lovely and horrific; like all Paschke’s distortions, they create a psychic disturbance.

This show indicated a subtle departure into painterly, even expressionistic territory. We find the familiar eggheaded video mutants composed of electronic bands and phosphorescent shadows, with glowing, lozenge-shaped mouths and eye sockets; acid colors in iridescent combinations, looking almost airbrushed, are as evident now as before. But some of the electrical waves, once horizontal, now move in diagonal directions. A more radical change is the addition of incidental markings—haphazard scribbles and Cy Twombly-esque scrawls—and touches that, while still rendered with oils, manage to resemble the appearance of watercolors and pastels. Paschke is starting to transfer his media-inspired figures of the past six years into a more painterly environment.

Will they take? They seem to be getting on swimmingly. These combinations of free-form, gestural elements and electronic imagery have the effect of a kind of electronic Altamira. As pictures of our new technology’s mystery figures, they suggest both the primitive, half-human qualities of the past and the synthetic science fiction of an unknown future.

Michael Bonesteel