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The Beauty of Damage is an 18 minute documentary about the work of Christopher Pekoc. Chris is a collage artist whose work is sewn together in a sensual, graphically sophisticated style. The film gives a unique view into the process of how these works are put together.

OK, I admit it, I like my art, and architecture, and music and photography to be well made. I find the processes that produce great works fascinating.  This is why doing documentaries about talented people at the height of their powers is such a turn on. If you like something – a great symphony, a painting, an exquisite space – I think your appreciation and enjoyment is all the more increased once you know how that work of art was made. One critic told me I was trapped in “the gratification of knowledge.” Guilty as charged.

I’ve always loved Christopher Pekoc’s beautifully crafted works. I’m in good company. A wonderful catalog of Chris’ work, written by Henry Adams, quotes Dana Gioa, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts,

“The first time I saw Christopher Pekoc’s work I knew I was in the presence of a powerful and original artist. Over the years my admiration has only grown. Visually stunning and sensual, his work is in equal parts beautiful and unsettling, which is to say that it transforms our usual sense of the beautiful to include the strange, the disturbing, and the mysterious.”

Two of Chris’ large pieces from one of his early shows at The Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art (now MOCA) were so compelling I sorta had to own them. After living with them for fifteen years they still look great to me.  This is not an easy accomplishment. So, you can imagine how excited I was when Christopher and Henry Adams came to me an asked if I would be interested in producing a film to accompany a national museum tour of Christopher’s work.

The program has been funded by Toby Devan Lewis and Case Western Reserve University and the three interviewees who appear in the program are all affiliated with Case. Chris teaches there and one of his models and studio assistants, Lara Kalafatis, is now a University Vice President. Henry Adams is an art historian and curator and is now also teaching at CWRU. 

Henry is best known for his recent book about the Philadelphia painter Thomas Eakins (1844-1916). The title is Eakins Revealed and the book shows the obsessive-compulsive and sort of kinky side to a painter who had a reputation of being a squeaky clean Philadelphian puritan.  Henry explains, “Thomas Eakins, [was] often considered the greatest American artist of the 19th century, if not simply “the greatest American painter.  … Eakins’s interest in the nude was not something straightforward but rather complex, and not something completely innocent, but rather disturbing.”

Henry’s recent catalog on Christopher Pekoc could easily been titled Christopher Pekoc Revealed. Instead, Henry gorgeously titled it,The Beauty of Damage, which is also the irresistible title of the film. Henry has nailed Chris and his work. Here is an excerpt in which he describes Chris studio, which viewers will have a chance to see in the film:

" . .. The most memorable sight are the wall-sized bulletin boards that run around most of the room on which are pinned paper and cut-outs of all sorts:  postcards, photocopies, reproductions of paintings that he likes, bits of foil, vinyl and transparent plastic, and above all, cut-outs from photographs of branches, bird’s wings, and body parts, such as hands, eyes, feet, arms, and heads. More than one visitor to the place has been reminded of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, where corpses are sewn together into strange half-human creatures. This is Pekoc’s alchemical laboratory, where bits and pieces of scattered things are fused together into works of art."[1]

Based on Chris’ hugely successful show at Convivium Gallery last year, and Adams’ catalog, Exhibits USA, a fine arts organization which travels worthy exhibitions to museums, is featuring Chris in a nationwide tour.  The video will accompany the exhibition in a specially designed kiosk display which will evoke the feeling of Chris’s studio wall!

The film explore Chris’ process, show you how he creates his unique pieces, and explore his fascinations and influences. In one unforgettable scene we explore the Kent State shootings. Chris was on campus that fateful day and did a huge painting inspired by those events. It won the May Show at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Through archival film (from the archives at John Carroll University) as well as the haunting black and white photographs of Howard Ruffner, the film recreates the awful mood of those times and creates a further context for one of Chris’ airbrush paintings. We also look at his Catholic upbringing and the impact of Catholic symbols and iconography on Chris with rather stunning footage gathered in Saint Stanislaus – a massive Gothic church in Cleveland’s Slavic Village. The recently restored church dates from 1902 and was constructed for the Polish immigrant community working in the steel industry.

It should be mentioned, in many ways, like Chris, I consider myself to be a collage artist. This is not my original thought. I did an artist profile for the contemporary sculptor, Larry Bell, and this was his comment.  He looked at a rough cut of his show and delighted with the outcome, he gushed, “I get it now!  You are really a collage artist. You take a piece from here and a piece from there and put it all together into something wonderful!”

An architecture critic who will be the subject of a future Telos Blog describes this perfectly. Juhlani Palasmaa explains,

“Collage invigorates the experience of tactility and time. Collage and film are the most characteristic art forms of our century, and have penetrated into all other forms of art, including architecture.”

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[1]  Amy Bracken Sparks once commented that “Pekoc’s highly organized Tremont studio resembles a modern-day Frankenstein laboratory.”  Similarly, Douglas Utter has remarked:  “There is something, too, of Dr. Frankenstein in Pekoc’s efforts to stitch together a living entity out of the dead flesh of his own photographic studies. See Amy Bracken Sparks, “Stitching New Worlds,” The Cleveland Free Times, September 24-30, 1997, and Douglas Utter, “Christopher Pekoc:  New Works,” Dialogue, Sept/Oct. 91.