I am always interested in ‘found’ works – the act of finding, and choosing to present, and present in a certain way making them a certain type of art work. I have used them to some extent in this segment of the course. In 2012 I was browsing through an Oxfam book store in Balham, London. It was the bargain bucket element of the charity shop, the books they feel they can’t even get 50p for – safe to say there is usually nothing there worth reading. Most books had the bindings broken, some were groups of pages of encyclopaedia’s and reference books.
So for 30p, I bought 23 pages of ‘The illustrated History of Clowns and Clowning” – a book published in the 1980’s. It had no cover, probably about 80% was missing, and there was no great continuity to the pages. I don’t know how many pages it had originally but the Table of Contents, suggests that the historical references date back to ancient Egyptian Dangas, Shakespearean jesters, through Italian medieval Commedia del’arte al improviso, to modern/ contemporary clowns (well modern in the 1980s).
I bought it because, it was about this time that I was looking at the Clown work of Cindy Sherman, bright colours, backgrounds, the perfect images of clowns from the greatest show on earth. Clowns separated from their times. They are clean, enjoy their work, they are good people, entertaining good people. The images in the charity book struck me as different – most of what I had found was in black and white, drawings, some coloured photos, but all with a grubbier, working clown look. These clowns lived during some bad times in human existence. They ‘entertained’ people who history has cast as negative. Unlike our perception of clowns, it looks like they weren’t all good people themselves.
Despite the bright lights, working in a circus seems a hard life. So why did these people, or anyone become a clown? Does anyone find them funny? Aren’t most people just frightened of them? When did they become frightening or have they always been a figure of subversion? How was this clown personality at odds with their own? I have chosen 2 of the pages from the encyclopaedia for this assignment, so the potential is there for me to do more. These historic clowns, struck me good examples for the questions I wanted to ask about clowns. These clowns work – is it an art-form to them the way the book suggests? Like photography itself, is it an art form or people just working. The clowns in this book were not necessarily good people, good worthy entertainers. Some were nasty, bitter, racist, drunks. The contrast between the perception of what a clown inherently is, and what the ‘people’, these real clowns actually were interested me, and made their failings even more stark.
About 2 or 3 years ago, I was drinking in a pub in Dublin. I got chatting to a man in his 60’s. His family was one of the leading circus families in Ireland. I won’t say which one, but there are only about 2 or 3. We talked about the circus. He wasn’t ever a clown he said. Because he said his dad and his uncles had owned the circus, so really he was just admin. He said he knew the clowns, but only as well as he knew the tumblers or jugglers – but he had known them all his life. We talked about clowns in general and then about clowns he knew. He talked about Sorcas, the most famous Irish clown his circus has ever had. It was in the late 1970s and Sorcas was used in all the posters, even though at that time the circus used elephants, lions and tigers – which they don’t now.
But the clown was the star. I told him about the pages I had from the ‘Illustrated History of Clowns and Clowning’ and we discussed whether Sorcas would have made it into the book alongside famous clowns such as Grimaldi and Letts (it turned out he did and I was able to source the page). I explained that I didn’t have all the book, only some pages, and we took out our phones and searched online for a copy of the book. But neither of us could find it. He asked for a copy of what I had, and offered to pay for just a copy. We exchanged numbers, and I said I would call him a few days later once I had been to the photocopiers. But a few days later having been to the photocopiers, the copies I had made were poor. I had tried scanning the pages, but the photos didn’t seem to copy well. So I phoned the guy I had met and explained. He said he had spoken to his relatives and asked if they could just buy the pages. I said no, but would investigate how we could get better copies – he offered to pay then for the best copies I could get. I went in to a printers in Dublin, and after agreeing a price with him and having it approved by the Circus owner I got pages of the ‘Illustrated History of Clowns and Clowning’ reproduced in modern printing techniques, with clear text and near perfect copied photographs.
These are the new perfect copies, delivered from the printer. Two of the clowns – 2 pages of the 23. These are their clones.
Subsequently, (in 2015) I discovered that the book was written by Charles Andrews, a university professor from Arizona in the U.S. I called the university only to discover that not only had Prof. Andrews retired in the mid-1990’s due to ill health, but that he had unfortunately died in 2002. I made further enquiries with the university and with Mr. Andrews family and will include the letters here. They are interesting and throw some light on the images. I had included in my letters a number of the reproductions I had done, and had hoped that I would be able to get a copy of the full book from one of the parties. But it didn’t work out. Neither of them had a copy and they were actually pleased to get the copies I had sent them. So as of now, April 2017, I have still been unable to get a full copy of the original book. So my cloned pages remain all that currently exists of The Illustrated History of Clowns and Clowning.
The Illustrated History of Clowns and Clowning, Page 153
The Illustrated History of Clowns and Clowning, Page 137
Letter from colleague of Charles Andrews, Grosvenor University, Arizona, 2015
E-mail from Graham Hall, Devon Wilson Publishing, May 7th 2015