Monday, November 12, 2012


"Winner" (Vintage spool clown)

Evil clowns, scary clowns, sad clowns, funny clowns.  Clowns saturate the popular consciousness today more than ever, from pop art to horror movies, with evil clowns and fear of clowns (coulrophobia) being so common that in a 2008 study at a British children's hospital, ALL 250 of the respondents said they found clowns frightening.

I never especially cared one way or another about clowns when I was a kid.  I can't even really recall any clowns other than Bozo and Ronald McDonald.  Bozo seemed innocuous, and Ronald in retrospect seems mostly only proto-evil due to being the pitchman for the disturbing chicken nuggets of heart clogging death.

The first clown that captured my imagination was Pennywise from Stephen King's "It" in high school.  In that novel the clown "Pennywise" is an external form of a dark, almost Lovecraftian alien intelligence that lurks in the sewers (and subconscious) of a small, creepy town in Maine, luring children to their deaths.  The clown functions quite well as a metaphor for the town's collective subconscious in this story.  

"Ang Zai Eddie" (Benzo the Clown)

 A deeper fascination with clowns took hold when Mr. Bungle released their self-titled album back in 1991. . .still to my ears one of the best albums ever recorded in San Francisco.    Mr. Bungle is a genre hopping masterpiece fusing everything from circus music, death metal, reggae and surf guitar into a collage of cartoonish virtuosity.  Check out their debut video "Quote Unquote."

Thematically, Mr. Bungles self-titled concept album could be seen as an exploration of suppressed desire that finally explodes as depravity.  The album ends with a creaking rope as the title character, presumably still in clown make up, swings back and forth, slowly gasping last gasps in a moment of auto-erotic asphyxiation carried too far. 

The Mr. Bungle album art is primarily taken from "A Cotton Candy Autopsy" and is a big influence on my approach to the soft sculpture clowns I make out of merino wool and brightly colored kid mohair.   

  While the idea of "evil clown" has become the dominant form of clown and is prevalent in the horror genre (no doubt owing a debt to the real life serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who was also a clown), there really isn't such a thing as the duality of "good and evil" but rather gradations or spectrum's of existence. I prefer to think of the "evil clowns" not as "evil" but as existing in various degrees of degeneracy.  On the softest end of this scale would be sad clowns, like my creation "Funger" whom I wrote a short story about, and the nervous vintage spool clown pictured above "Ang Zai Eddie" (Benzo the Clown.)

The clowns I make from time to time have always been a sort of fun side-project.  And yet, giving it some thought, and having looked at a lot of the clown-themed art out there in the world, it really is a legitimate artistic subject matter, and not just an exploration of aesthetics.  Clowns art triggers emotional reactions, which raise further questions.

Maybe the biggest question people have is "why are clowns scary."  Not just overtly scary, "evil" horror clowns, but clowns in general.  I don't really have an answer to offer for that question, though I suspect it lies in our fear of what hides beneath that mask.  A clown is the Freudian Id unleashed.  For fun and hilarity, check out the "VH1 Top Ten Reasons Clowns Are Scary."

Busty the Clown
What I enjoy most about making clowns is the exploration of emotion.  Whatever the emotion you are working with in creating a clown, it's an outsized version of a normal human emotion.  Scary or angry people are one thing, but a scary or angry clown is REALLY scary.  Same thing with sadness.  The most successfully emotive clown I've down is "Funger, the Saddest Clown in the World."  I've observed true emotional reactions from people viewing that one. 

But all that "exploration of emotional states" stuff aside, clowns (even scary ones) are just fun.  It's the circus, man!  Popcorn, cotton candy, elephants, laughter, juggling, prat falls, and just the whole explosion of colors.  So visually stimulating and playful!

I make these clowns with soft, brightly colored merino wool, and the hair styles are done with even more brightly colored kid mohair locks from a farm in Mendocino, CA.  To see more, check out the Wooliverse Etsy shop.  I also do custom requests, so if you have a favorite clown, I am able to work from images and pictures to bring your clown to full, 3D life.

Oh yeah, and getting back to the title of this post. . .let's not forget Sexy Clowns!

Clown I met at SF's annual Folsom Street Fair

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