I was motivated to write this post because I got such mixed reactions to the featured portrait painting entitled, “Polka Dot Tie”. It was not a painting I set out to do as a planned piece with a model or a series. People have negative feelings about clowns these days anyway. My husband is an ex-professional clown, so I am a little closer to the actual thing that most folks! And I have thought about doing a series of clown portraits because I know his friends in the clowning world and it is a dying art.
But back to the portrait. We were at a local Halloween parade (Sea Witch in Rehoboth Beach last year, 2021). There were so many people dressed up and so much activity it was really hard to get any great candid shots without blurring, bumping into someone or not getting the shutter to click fast enough. I don’t like posed shots really, but sometimes you have to ask. Not in this case, however. Clowns and people in costume from various local organizations were passing out candy along the route and I just held out my cell phone from behind a barricade and starting clicking away, hoping for something but expecting nothing. I didn’t think about it until months later and breezed through the photos I got. This face-a 20-something pretty young girl in a strange wig with weirder, interesting face paint showed up on my screen. Perfect shot.
And, I immediately saw a visual metaphor for something more in her face, bewigged and made up, “made up” being the key phrase. How often are we likely to display an outward appearance that has nothing to do with who we really are or how we are feeling. Her strange appearance was in such contrast to the wisps of natural blonde hair that poked out around her wig, the pensive concentration on her face so not a clown expression. She was study in contrasts. I got a 50/50 split between “awesome” and “scary” when I posted the piece online and showed it in a nearby gallery, and honestly, the make up is a little off-putting. I guess the scary comments needled me a bit. Or at least made me sigh. “Look harder, think more” was the internal mental ticker tape going by in my mind. But the viewer is king when it comes to visual art. And as I thought about that, I thought how often I breeze by other artists’ work and make snap judgements or don’t give it a few minutes of studied time. I finished the piece up with a fabricated (literally-fabric collage) background, colorful and flat, contrast to her three dimensional portrait- making the point that the world around her was artificial. She was real.