Inland Art | A not-in-New York artist



With 2018 winding down, I feel obliged to reflect briefly on central contemporary art figures in the Midwest. Art from the middle America differentiates itself from coastal markets via artists such as Ed Paschke, Phyllis Bramson, Kerry James Marshall and Michelle Grabner, just to draw a few names out of a hat. While there is little formal thread among these Chicago-based artists, they share something critical. Despite being widely recognized, each has resisted how art is generally promoted on a national stage. Many came to maturity before the machinery of the global art market would portray their careers. They made work that was derived from a real place and singular experiences –– narratives in the vicinity of their studios, the places they’ve worked or taught and histories they have inherited. In larger coastal metro centers the subject of art is infringed upon by the business of art, the strategies of curators and the whims of collectors who profit from monoculture. Chicago and the Midwest attract artists who make exceptional objects that are external to art-vogue.

University art departments support our leading artists and are silent partners in inland art. Images and ideas are absorbed from mentors who hand down the accounts of the ones who mentored them. It’s a more intimate sharing of ideas than academies on the coasts that are designed to feed the enormous appetites of multinational markets. The Midwest conserves and modifies tradition that is germane to identity, debate and visual intelligence. The coastal fixation for transcending the past and substituting pageantry or gloom is cultural itineracy.

E.P. Rouge


The choice to live in the present and fine tune one’s surroundings in the Midwest or other inland cultural zones is substantive and rational. That the Ed Paschke Art Center is the only Chicago exhibition space devoted to the legacy of a single artist is no surprise. His work is as esteemed equally by artists and the general public. The 14th anniversary of his death was just last week, and while much has occurred during that time, Paschke’s work seems as virtuosic and charismatic as ever. His radically electrostatic portraits of the famous and the anonymous calculated the drift towards obsession, narcissism and escapism in which we are now embroiled in so much of the mainstream. His slightly detached gaze and criticality came from being planted firmly at a distance from official tastemakers.

I had the pleasure of speaking on a College Art Association panel with Paschke in the 1980s. The subject was “The Not in New York Artist,” and it addressed the dilemma of Midwest artists leaving for New York as well as strategies for making inland America more responsive to a seriously engaged practice –– i.e. an alternative to New York City. Paschke’s blunt assertation was that he wasn’t driven to become a New York artist. He told the convention crowd that “It’s easy to be an artist in New York. Everyone there is an artist. I want to be a Chicago artist.” He preferred to labor here precisely because of Chicago’s more sober identity, and that his measure of anonymity was more valuable than celebrity. It was a perfect riposte to those who grumbled about not getting validation from a remote licensee. Paschke defied that authority, embodying the post-regional artist who defines art on his or her own terms and in relationship to where they live. His instinct that investing in place and its history held more promise was part of the debunking of New York’s citadel of place transcendence that Chicago picked apart, plank by plank in the 1980s.

3 comments for “Inland Art | A not-in-New York artist

  1. November 30, 2018 at 3:42 pm

    Thank you Paul for mentioning me. You didn’t have to, but you did and it is greatly appreciated. FYI, I am curating an exhibition that takes place next Fall at the Elmhurst Art Museum that deals with the title, ‘What Came After’: Figurative Painting in Chicago 1978-1998. This period of time is simply never mentioned. In fact, The New Art Examiner in their December ’18 issue supplants this period I am referencing with Outsider Art in the 80’s and then in the 90’s artists that are more contemporary. It is as if that period simply does not exist. My reason initially was in reaction to the uber attention that is being given to the Hairy Who. But lately I have begun more then ever to see that my reasoning was correct. There are artists that need to be mentioned that have just been in lost in Chicago’s painting history.

    • Teri Talan
      December 28, 2018 at 5:13 pm

      I eagerly await your exhibit next fall at Elmhurst Art Museum. I was struck by all the remarkable Chicago area artists that were not featured during the year of Art Design Chicago. Where was Hollis Sigler, Barbara Blades, and Phyllis Bramson? Just for the record, I own one of your pieces–Tales of Love (Infatuation)–which I believe you created around 2000.

      • January 4, 2019 at 5:15 pm

        Hi Teri,
        Thanks for getting in touch with me. I would love your email so I can send you updates about what is going on with me. Maybe you will be able to come to the opening at Elmhurst Art Museum and introduce yourself, actually I am in a book that was published with money from the Terra Foundation Called “Art In Chicago” published by Chicago press. It just came out a few months ago. I have a full page reproduction of my piece Heidi Chair on page 241, and Hollis Sigler has a piece featured on page 249 and has quite a bit mentioned on page 247. All of this can be found in an article called “Alterity Rocks 1973-1993” by Jenni Sorkin. It is a history of art in Chicago from the fire to now. It is well worth buying.

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