Strategy: Get Arts. SGA50
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3. Blinky Palermo making his wall painting Blue/Yellow/White/Red

Blinky Palermo’s wall painting was a wonderful intervention into the fabric of the ECA building, but was whitewashed by the college authorities soon after SGA.

Blinky Palermo making his wall painting Blue/Yellow/White/Red (August 1970). Photo

Blinky Palermo

Blinky Palermo (1943-1977) was born Peter Schwarze in Leipzig in 1943 and brought up as Peter Heisterkamp by his foster parents.

He adopted the sobriquet by which he became known as an artist in 1964. The name refers to Frank ‘Blinky’ Palermo, a boxing promoter and American Mafioso who owned prize-fighters and fixed fights, and who had a major stake in the contract of Sonny Liston, who won the World Heavyweight Championship in 1962.

Palermo studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf between 1962 and 1967 and was a star student of Joseph Beuys.

After a stint in New York in the early 1970s he moved in to Gerhard Richter’s former Düsseldorf studio.

Palermo’s reputation continued to grow after his tragic early death in 1977.

Palermo was known for his monochromatic canvases and one-colour fabric paintings. He also painted on wood, steel, aluminium, and Formica, sometimes creating lines out of tape rather than paint.

Wall paintings

Blinky Palermo making his wall painting Blue/Yellow/White/Red (August 1970). Photo
Photo © Monika Baumgartl, and DACS 2021.

From 1968 to 1978, Palermo realized more than 20 murals and wall drawings at various sites in Europe, including Edinburgh College of Art. In these paintings, geometric forms echoed the contours of the rooms and Palermo recorded them in photo-documentation.

Remarkable photographs of Palermo precariously perched up a very tall ladder at the ECA Grand Staircase were taken by Monika Baumgartl and George Oliver.

Palermo worked at pace to create his Blue, Yellow, White, Red, a wall painting comprising a horizontal band of primary colours, which ran around the architrave of the Beaux-Arts ECA building, beneath which the broken chairs of Stefan Wewerka lay scattered on the main staircase.

Palermo’s simple elegant intervention into the fabric of the main building provided a fascinating contrast to the Panathenaic procession of the West Frieze Parthenon casts, for which the Sculpture Court is well known.

Alexander Hamilton (b. 1950), one of the SGA student helpers (a Demarco gallery assistant), recalls how friendly and generous Palermo and the other artists who came were. Palermo, in particular, would socialise with the student assistants during his involvement with SGA.

After SGA, Palermo’s wall painting was whitewashed, along with any other trace of the exhibition.

With that gesture, the memory of this extraordinary takeover of the art college, a remarkable Gesamtkunstwerk by artists from Düsseldorf in the late summer of 1970, and certainly the most significant moment in the history of the art college, was symbolically wiped out by the college authorities.

This attempt to ‘erase’ the exhibition was unsuccessful though. The Palermo work was recreated in 2005 as part of ECA’s controversial ‘Palermo: Restore’ project.