Photo by Steve Backstrom
I made the odd decision to create three life-sized clowns in the year 2002. It was a pretty big undertaking for me as most larger bronze pieces are the product of a commercial foundry of well skilled workers and a well equipped facility. I started with the idea of a standing figure, holding the world in his hands, as one might hold a basketball. As a political statement, I guess it would be fair to say that I meant to imply that we were in the hands of a bunch of clowns.
We had just suffered a profound and devastating hit to our nation, and as a nation were hellbent on hitting back. It seemed to me that our political leaders were more intent on that revenge than they were on hitting the actual perpetrators of our pain. We watched our nation enter Afghanistan, not as a police force, to deal with a select group of people whom we knew to have orchestrated 9/11, but as a military invasion of a country that was not responsible for our injury. We were also ramping up to go to war in Iraq, again, not the perpetrator of the crime we were victims of. My clowns message walked a pretty precarious tightrope at the time, as it was not at all a popular perspective to be against the invasion of either Afghanistan or Iraq.
My intention for the piece was to show it in SOFA Chicago, which was a pretty large audience for this politically charged artwork. The gallery with which I was to show the work was entirely against it being exhibited. Without the support of my gallery, and after a good deal of consideration, I decided to do finish the piece as a seated clown, with a bit less pointed of a message. It was in large part a self portrait, with certain liberties of course. The piece reflected the mood with which I redirected the image away from where my deep convictions were. Having refocused my first clown to be less specific, I went on to do two more life-sized clowns that would function with the first as a threesome. My second clown was based on a good friend we played volleyball with twice a week. He had an immense capacity to have fun, and was a big part of life here in our valley. He has since passed on, but I feel like I captured his visage as the spirit that he was. My third life-sized clown was based on a photograph of my maternal grandfather. He is playing a fiddle in the piece, and serenading the other two figures.
Eventually I did make my clown holding the world, but not as a life-sized piece. I’m not
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sure that it would have been so Earth-shaking to have done the larger piece for the Chicago audience, but for what it's worth, I got it out of my system!