Friday, December 9, 2011

Send in the clown paintings...

What do we talk about when we talk about clowns? Where to begin. Clowns are scary/sad/dark. Clowns are sinister/creepy/wrong. Shakes the Clown. Krusty the Clown. John Wayne Gacy. Clown paintings are trite; good-for-a-laff thrift shop art collected by kitsch-loving young hipsters before they move on to better things, like Howard Finster or Henry Darger. Unless you're Diane Keaton, who is a serious collector of clown paintings and even produced an odd coffee table book devoted to them back in 2002. (I know because I own it—it was sent to me by an eternally optimistic publicist back when I was editing the book page of a teen fashion magazine.)

I don't have a whole lot to add to the clown discourse; I did have a love-loathe relationship with a clown doll when I was a small child but I haven't let that poison my feelings toward clowns in general. I picked up this Walter T. Foster volume devoted to Clowns and Characters because, as previously noted, I'm a total sucker for these art-instruction manuals. And what I find especially compelling about this book are the "characters" who get lumped in with the clowns. Basically, a character is a person who isn't white. You'll have to take my word for it because I didn't scan the pictures that best illustrate this point—the colors weren't as vivid—but there's a portrait of a handsome young black guy with an intense gaze, a young black woman called "Cuban Girl" and another called "Woman of Morocco." Below, you have this ginger-haired gentleman tricked out five different ways—a pirate, a clown, a Mexican, an extra from Lawrence of Arabia, a Sikh...such crazy characters!

When dealing with a run-of-the-mill white person, like the middle-aged woman below, it is advisable that the artist accessorize:

Dress up the model in costume, using accessories from the attic trunk. The costume will take the model out of the ordinary class of portraits. Express a few important folds or creases with conviction. This will get you by. (More artists have committed suicide over drapery than anything else.) Paint the drapery in one shot, or keep it tentative until sure. Play it cool. Save all your emotions and passions for the wind-up.

Yikes, in addition to being racist, folks were pretty flippant about suicide back in the 50s/60s, or whenever this was published (it's not dated but it's obviously midcentury). Alas, the Walter T. Foster company no longer publishes the time capsule that is Clowns and Characters; it's been replaced by more timely subject matter like Manja and NASCAR.

Gracing the back cover of the book is the lovely young woman below. I thought for sure she was going to be called "Gypsy Girl" but it turns out she is "Italian girl" (the lack of big gold hoop earrings and a do-rag should've indicated that she wasn't part of a caravan). On the preceding page is a black-and-white portrait of a pensive blonde, her hands folded demurely on her lap. That portrait is called "Beverly"—and she's the only "character" with a name.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this entry! My mom painted one of the clowns, and I actually found a copy of this book at a local used book store.


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