Friday, June 19, 2009

Why We Should Read Ed Paschke's Accordion Paintings And How


A shruti box is a small wooden instrument that traditionally works on a system of bellows. It is similar to a harmonium and is used to provide a drone in a practice session or concert of Indian classical music. It is used as an accompaniment to other instruments and notably the flute. Use of the shruti box has widened with the cross-cultural influences of world music and new age music to provide a drone for many other instruments as well as vocalists.
Adjustable buttons allow tuning.


Kugler, 1971.

Over the years here at this blog a number of visitors have commented that they don't understand art. They don't know how to relate to it and have asked me "What is it's purpose". I've often enjoyed trying to struggle with these excellent questions in the comments when I post something about art. I think one of the best things anyone can learn about art is how to figure out WHAT questions to actually ask. Instead of asking what art means...what is it's value...I suggest a leap of faith. Let's pretend that since everywhere in the world in every culture...people make images and they narrate stories with words and/or images or music with much enthusiasm: lets assume it is valuable. Just gor giggles and shits let's aassume art is meaningful to our everyday lives.

Art is a format of narrative. It is a non-verbal language. So let's just pretend art does have a purpose and meaning. I like to think of humans as "meaning machines". Humans add layers of meanings to life.


Keyed Fantasies: Music, the Accordion and The American Dream in Strozek and Schultze Gets The Bluesby Emily Hauze..."The strange body of the accordion, breathing, undulating, strapped to the chest of its player, is among the many striking elements linking Werner Herzog's Stroszek (1976) and Michael Schorr's Schultze gets the blues (2003). This paper considers Schultze to be a complex response to Herzog's film, using the accordion as a link between German and American culture as well as between contemporary German cinema and its towering predecessors in New German Cinema. Both Stroszek and Schultze are interested in some strain of the `American Dream': Stroszek hopes to find wealth and happiness, and Schultze seeks a certain ethnic spice found within the `melting pot' of American culture. In both cases, the complex machinery of the accordion is a metaphor for dreams that might be realised in America and for the mobility required to realise them. In tracing the link between these two films, my paper investigates ways in which music is bound to cultural landscapes, and to what extent a new cultural identity can be attained through one's relationship to musical sound. For Stroszek, and, more successfully, for Schultze, the accordion is a symbol of an intact and mobile body capable of crossing cultural boundaries."

You'll have to click on the photo to read the gist of this work by Marius Barbeau. Brabeau was a somewhat controversial anthropologist using oral and musical traditions to study human behaviour but his early championing of the theory of migration from Siberia across the Bering Strait has since been vindicated by science.

Pauline Oliveros explained why she has played the accordion all her life "Symbolically it is aligned with *the people* - working people. It is also a challenge to play an instrument that grew up after the period of classical music. The piano is centered in that period. The accordion has a life of it's own."


Ed Paschke was born in Chicago, where he spent most of his life. His childhood interest in animation and cartoons led him toward a career in art. As a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago he was influenced by many artists featured in the Museum's special exhibitions, in particular the work of Gauguin, Picasso and Seurat.
Although Paschke was inclined toward representational imagery, he learned to paint based on the principles of abstraction and expressionism. Paschke received his bachelor of fine arts degree in 1961, and later his master of fine arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1970.
Between his graduate and undergraduate work Paschke traveled and worked a variety of jobs amassing the experiences that would shape his artistic style. During a brief period in New York, he was exposed to Pop Art philosophy and began to incorporate elements of this style borrowing images directly from the print media and other elements of popular culture.
Themes of violence, aggression, and physical incongruity prevail in his work of this period. Returning to Chicago in 1968 he exhibited with other artists whose work, like Paschke's, shared references to non-Western and surrealist art, appropriated images from popular culture and employed brilliant color throughout a busy and carefully worked surface. Known collectively as the Chicago Imagists, their work attracted attention both regionally and nationally.

Along with Jim Nutt, Peter Saul and to some extent Ed Ruscha, Mr. Paschke was an artist whose contribution to the art of his time was somewhat obscured by his distance from New York. As with Paul Klee's assimilation of Cubism, his version of Pop Art proved that an art movement's ideas need not weaken as they spread outward.Like Mr. Nutt, Mr. Paschke was associated with the Chicago Imagists, a group of artists whose intensely mannered figurative styles borrowed from popular culture, outsider art and Surrealism. But Mr. Paschke was alone among them in basing his images on photographs culled from television, newspaper and magazines.

One of the first artists to paint using an opaque projector, he was crucially influenced by the photo-based paintings of Andy Warhol, whom he considered the most important of all postwar artists. This admiration had an indelible effect on his best-known student, Jeff Koons.

His early paintings focused on movie stars, wrestlers and circus freaks of all kinds, their appearances exaggerated by illustrational precision, strange textures and inharmonious colors. He painted Marilyn Monroe as a green-faced accordion player and Claudette Colbert as a tattooed lady. As he developed, identifiable personalities gave way to blank faces and silhouettes. These were not so much images as afterimages that seemed to have burned through one scrimlike layer of color to reveal another. His surfaces were further defined by horizontal bands, staticky patterns and flitting lines of color that reflected an attention to electronic media. His brooding fluorescent tones, often painted over black grounds, kept pace with the palette of color video exploited by artists from Bruce Nauman to Matthew Barney.


Although an accordion is not a primitive instrument like the shruti box, it does allow for the kind of incanataroy drone music evocative of spiritual ragas and emulates the breathing of a human. How does this mechanical function affect how we see Ed Paschke's accordion paintings?

What is the significance of the shoes displayed with the accordion? These aren't rudimentary shoes. They seem to be very stylized of a particular time and place within pop culture. The shoes are classic men's wingtip dress shoes. Very popular in the 1940's and then again, in the 1970's. How do these shoes relate to the accordion? Perhaps they are the kind of shoes a person might wear to go dancing? What about the idea of a fashion trend resurfacing? The shoes also are with a buckle and slip on style. They likely have an elastic that allows some give for putting on and taking off. Why would these shoes be associated with an accordion?

If the accordion is a musical instrument of "the people" as Oliveros says, and we can see it's archaic cousins like the shruti box, the music of aboriginal societies how does this effect how we see Marilyn Monroe? Is Monroe like an instrument played droning through our popular culture? Is Marilyn an object of and for the people? Is Marilyn like the accordion...played by working clas folks, in circus or freak shows? Is Marilyn as accessible as folk music? What does the tattoo on Marilyn make us feel? And remember...this was painted years before investment bankers were getting tattoos as often as longshoremen, criminals or rock stars. In 1970 only "outsiders" had tattoos. Carnys, criminals and merchant marines. And a woman having a tattoo?

The accordion is a "breathing" machine with a voice: is Paschke suggesting painting a portrait or constructing images is much like putting song into language? Since Paschke was a Polish-American could the accordion represent his family's past from Europe? Could Marilyn playing an accordion represent her father's Norwegian European narrative? Is Hollywood, the accordion and Marilyn all used to represent the "American Dream" and therefore aligns Paschke's story arc in these paintings to Herzog's Strozek?



-New York Times
- Rockford Art Museum

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