Three Pekocs, a family affair, at Judson Park
Complex, photo-based assemblages that are equally beautiful and unsettling—telling stories that can be uncomfortable and transformative—are the thoughtful byproduct of artist Christopher Pekoc’s inventive collage works. Pekoc is widely known for his experimental mixed-media pieces that are often life-sized and incorporate stitching, paint, and polyester film that is sanded, scratched, and coated.
Formerly a drawing instructor at Case Western Reserve University and a recipient of five Ohio Arts Council fellowships, Pekoc has had his work appear in more than 100 solo and group shows at institutions including the Cleveland Museum of Art, moCa Cleveland, the Ueda Gallery in Tokya, the National Gallery of Australia, and numerous galleries in New York City.
Pekoc, along with his brother, Roy Pekoc, and nephew, Sam Pekoc, will display their works at Judson Park in an exhibit, The Three Pekocs: A Family Affair, open through March 6.
The show as a family affair is, in fact, an “assemblage” of the Pekocs’ works—all different yet sharing a familiar theme of celebrating the raw, the gritty, the real. Roy Pekoc repurposes scrap he finds on roadways—usually debris from vehicles, such as wheel covers—and creates sculptural works, both hung and freestanding. Sam Pekoc is an abstract photographer drawn to urban exploration and street portraits.
“Beyond shining a spotlight on Roy and Sam’s artwork, I wanted to show my work at Judson to honor my parents, Robert and Irene,” Pekoc says. “They both spent their final years at Judson, enabling me to witness firsthand the excellent living environment, cultural stimulation and medical assistance if needed that Judson provides to those facing the aging process.”
As for artistic “aging” and evolution, Pekoc traces the movement of his works from realistic pencil drawings to abstract painted canvases to the sewn, mixed-media works he produces today. Largely self-taught, Pekoc discovered his penchant for art in middle school, when he won a Gold Key award and moved to the national level. At Benedictine High School in Cleveland, teachers fostered his talent, and he eventually pursued architecture at Kent State University in the 1960s, before leaving to raise children with his wife. All the while, he continued drawing and exhibiting in shows.
A return to the campus in 1970 to pursue painting introduced him to a life- and career-altering experience: the Kent State shootings. He recalls being released from class at noon. Then the historic event unfolded before his eyes. “I was left with this incredible emotional experience and when I got back home to Cleveland in my studio, I wanted to paint it. I wanted big. I wanted color. I wanted impact.”
And this work, which took a year to complete, is ultimately how he moved into mixed-media assemblages. Scuba divers with their backs facing the viewer pose as soldiers with their spear guns, wet-suit uniforms, and yellow tanks. A general facing them is wearing a scuba mask, and the backdrop is a desert with a wrecked automobile, indicating that the subjects don’t belong there and that “we are in a political wasteland…our politics are wreckage,” Pekoc explains.
Magazine clippings helped inform the figures, and this collage effort led to more paintings based on cut-out images.
From 1971 into the late 1980s, Pekoc mainly painted on canvas, moving from his initial pencil-drawing realism work to abstract, larger-scale pieces using a collage process he designed: joining assemblages by sewing. While painting, he works with an air brush to achieve “perfect surfaces,” and adds, “it occurred to me that life was not perfect and I wanted my work to reflect those imperfections.” So, an accident whereby he spilled paint on a work-in-progress evolved into producing works that reflect damage and repair. He adds, “I’ve always been interested in the underbelly—the disenfranchised and exploring urban landscapes.”
“I started deliberately damaging surfaces in a way I thought gave pieces more character,” he continues.
For instance, he works on large bulletin board walls versus an easel, pinning up collage pieces as he considers how to assemble them. “I noticed over time the pinholes were actually creating a level of character on the surface, and so I started to poke more holes in materials and then I used a blow torch to heat up the polyester film I work with.”
Pekoc is on a constant journey to find new ways to use materials found in everyday life, such as potato chip bags with their metallic interiors that he laminates to make assemblages.
Hands are a predominant theme in his works.
“What we do with our hands creates a more complete portrait of a human being than the outer contours of the body,” he relates. “Some of the most significant acts are carried out with our hands.”
This explains why Pekoc incorporates not only hands as a form into his art, but also handwriting. And this ties in the aspect of the mind as “an engine that powers us.”
The Judson exhibit will showcase the power of three artistic minds in the Pekoc family.
Roy Pekoc likes to maintain a level of decay in his found-object artwork, finding the rust, corrosion and “brokenness” of pieces fascinating. He also created a process for drying squash stems that he paints as flowers, which will be displayed in the show.
Sam Pekoc says of his street-based photographs, “I like to show people, places—everyday life and catch subjects candidly so they are caught off guard.”
For more information about Three Pekocs, A Family Affair, visit judsonsmartliving.org or call 216.791.2885.
Three Pekocs, A Family Affair, through March 6
AT JUDSON PARK
1801 Chestnut Hills Drive
Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44106