New York

Ed Paschke

Phyllis Kind Gallery

This exhibition represents something of a return for Ed Paschke—a return to subject matter steeped in an invigorating and urgent air. During the past decade, Paschke has been best known for his large and scrupulously rendered paintings of vacant and depersonalized Everymen. These oversized and looming heads were of such metaphysical emptiness that their very scale seemed an affront; they came across as knowing and tired paeans to the pictorial tradition of heroic monumentality. But this exhibition of 12 paintings showed a stirring of intensity and a quickening of thought that recalled the artist’s earliest work, paintings that helped to define the movement subsequently known as Chicago Imagism. Then, as here, Paschke’s pictures offered acute observations of the soft underbelly of American culture and society, of the tawdry, often lurid and desperate lives led by the pimps, hustlers, freaks, and hoods that the Great Society left behind. These images spoke to an ineluctable urge toward voyeurism, presenting us with pictures that were simultaneously and equivalently rendered repulsive and attractive.

Here Paschke pictorializes the cruel and senseless violence that shadows modern urban life. In images constructed like video overlays or pastiches, figures are shown in a variety of brutal settings——bound and gagged, surrounded by weapons, awaiting execution, or posturing machismo, always ready to render or receive violence. It is guns that help make this sudden violence ubiquitous, and in image after image Paschke evokes their presence almost lovingly, outlining them in high-keyed neon shades of lime green and burning orange. Shown as the ultimate phallic tool, these handguns fuse with male heads in several paintings, forming a mustache or jaw, echoing the shape of teeth. These terrifying acts of anthropomorphization are often subsumed in the richness of Paschke’s technique. In Santa Caballo, 1988, nipples read as bullet holes, and the bound figure takes on a Christlike aura, as distinctions between beauty and violence begin to disappear. Paschke’s paintings are not narratives, but ruminations, thoughtful juxtapositions. His figures are ciphers; the roles they play, whether victim or perpetrator, leave them oddly blank and impassive. Bostock, 1987, features the twice-rendered, full-face image of the man who shot to death baseball player Lyman Bostock. The killer faces the camera/ viewer unperturbed. There is no sign of motive or regret; one simply confronts—twice—the stark, blunt face of murder.

James Yood