Born 1939, Chicago, Illinois; died 2004, Chicago, Illinois

Working in cyclical modes of abstraction and representation, Ed Paschke painted hundreds of faces over the course of nearly forty years. A childhood love of animation predisposed him to Pop art when it emerged in the early 1960s, and the subjects of his early portraits—ranging from movie stars and champion wrestlers to circus freaks—derived from tabloid magazines, trade catalogues, and television. He was linked to the Chicago Imagists, a group of artists in the 1960s who tapped outsider art and Surrealism as source imagery, though Andy Warhol’s photo-based paintings would prove to be a more lasting touchstone for the artist. Yet Paschke departed from Pop’s exuberant primary colors; his palette was—and remained—both darker and more psychedelic, spanning from fluorescent neons to garish, sickly hues. In the 1970s and 1980s, his portraits became more abstract: disembodied eyes and mouths took the place of faces, their silhouettes overlaid with abstract designs that borrowed equally from the fanciful Pattern and Decoration movement and the binary geometries of electronic media. In the last twenty years of his life, Paschke returned to recognizable subjects, executing portraits of mercurial historical figures both beloved and deplored—Abraham Lincoln and Elvis Presley, Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden—and in the 1990s, he revisited classic themes such as the Venus di Milo and Velázquez’s portrait of Juan Pareja.

Paschke’s late works veered back to abstraction, and in them military iconography (guns, insignias) is juxtaposed with Eastern religious motifs and brightly tinted facial features rendered in isolation. In Legal Tender (2004), a hat of the sort worn by commissioned officers in the armed forces tops an outline of a nose, at once suggesting a face and, in conjunction with cartoonish birds in the lower corners and horizontal lines spanning the painting’s top edge, denying human presence. The heavily lidded eyes, large nose, and full lips pictured in Bang Bang (2004) also hint at, but don’t cohere as, a discrete identity, and the work’s mix of whimsy (its biomorphic yellow underpainting) and menace (the title phrase, which is superimposed on the mouth) encapsulates the combination of pictorial precision and moody allusion that marked Paschke’s production.


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Non, 2003. Oil on linen, 36 x 50 in. (91.4 x 127 cm). Estate of the artist