Ed Flood

Ed Flood, 1975. Courtesy of Mary Baber.

1944–1985

Like many of his colleagues at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), Edward Flood drew inspiration from comic book illustrations, commercial advertisements, and picture postcards. In between completing his bachelor’s (1967) and master’s (1969) degrees, Flood was asked by exhibitions coordinator Don Baum to select a group for an exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center. Flood and his friend Ed Paschke enlisted Richard Wetzel and Sarah Canright to participate with them in an exhibition titled Nonplussed Some (1968). A second exhibition, Nonplussed Some Some More, took place a year later.

Flood was greatly influenced by Joseph Cornell, whose sculptures he encountered at the Art Institute of Chicago while a student at SAIC, and by the artist H.C. Westermann, whom he knew personally through mentorship. An impeccable craftsman, Flood constructed boxes that combined multiple Plexiglas panels into a single, unified scene. But rather than incorporating found objects like Cornell, Flood reverse-painted each layer of his compositions, resulting in structures that playfully challenge viewers’ perceptions of depth and space. Flood studied the production of color separations (an interest shared by several of the Chicago Imagists including Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, Barbara Rossi, and Karl Wirsum) as background for combining layers of painted Plexiglas. He was especially attracted to the flawless paint surfaces made possible by the smooth Plexiglas; the sleek, vibrating imagery of his boxes echo that of highly polished pinball machines. The machine-made aesthetic of Flood’s work contrasts with his painted motifs of dense tropical landscapes, palm trees, and flowers.

Over time, Flood’s work became progressively more abstract, exhibiting natural forms that evoke both lush paradises and underwater realms, and communicate a sense of the familiar and the unknowable. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he was not widely recognized for his body of work during his lifetime. In 1973, Flood and Sarah Canright moved to New York City. While living in New York, Flood kept in touch with his Imagist friends in Chicago, notably Roger Brown. After his death in 1985, Flood became known as an enigmatic figure within Imagist circles.

Featured Work

Aluminum Floater #2 (1974)

Acrylic on Plexiglas with aluminum frame

Ed Flood often incorporated delicate layers of Plexiglas painted with acrylic into his carefully constructed art objects. Inspired by Joseph Cornell’s surreal, glass-fronted boxes at the Art Institute of Chicago, Flood was attentive to both the design and the physical assembly of his artwork. Upon Flood’s move to New York City in 1973, the Chicago-based artist H.C. Westermann, known for his masterful woodworking skills, became a mentor and pen pal; he and Flood exchanged favorite screws, bolts, and hardware in specially constructed boxes via the U.S. mail.

Flood’s move to New York City also coincided with his shift to abstraction. Still working with painted Plexiglas, his glossy beach scenes—replete with the palm trees and crashing waves from his Chicago Imagist days—were soon replaced with compositions of minimalist, amorphous shapes. In Aluminum Floater #2, a microscopic universe is presented to the viewer, as fluid amoebic forms appear to float between the stacked layers of glass. The aqueous bodies are elegantly painted in vibrant hues of blue, purple, and green, and the colors meld together like an oil slick on a puddle of water. The work is suspended from two hooks on top of the constructed aluminum frame and is hung a few inches away from the wall, enhancing its presentation as a kinetic view into the universal and the microscopic.