Ed Paschke almost never took a vacation. The six days a week he spent at his Rogers Park studio painting the vibrant, haunting portraits that were his trademark was vacation enough, Paschke's son Marc once said. So special was the cluttered room on Howard Street that the artist called it the alchemist's lair.
After Paschke's death at age 65 in 2004, Marc meticulously photographed the studio and carefully packed up its contents, with the hope that a gallery might one day re-create the place his father, a key Chicago Imagist, most loved to be. The Ed Paschke Art Center, which opened in Jefferson Park late last month, has done just that: diligently reproduced the studio in all its divey, chaotic glory. Wood panels cover the walls. Fluorescent light fixtures, which the artist filtered to his liking using canvas strips, are overhead. One of Paschke's patterned button-down shirts hangs from the back of a chair in front of an easel that holds an unfinished painting of a boxer. Paschke's spirit is so present you half expect the artist to saunter into the scene, pluck a long brush from one of the repurposed Pringles cans, and sit down to work.
Paschke's unconventional constellation of influences can be gleaned from the ephemera on display: images of Grace Jones, Geraldo, David Bowie, Mr. Rogers, Divine; a 1980s ad for Japanese fashion designer Hanae Mori; a rainbow Howlin' Wolf gig poster; an Egyptian sarcophagus paperweight; lucha libre masks; toy guns; a pair of Air Jordans.
Business cards and notes pinned to cork boards and taped to the studio door offer clues to Paschke's professional and personal life. Close observers will see Jeff Koons's (artfully obscured) phone number, as well as a date marked on Paschke's calendar when he planned to fly to San Francisco to meet his first grandchild. Sadly, he'd never get the chance.