I have recently been working on a new series of linocut prints based on The Circus. Here is me explaining more about the theme and how it came about.
The Circus is endlessly fascinating and inspiring, even as nowadays it is almost extinct entertainment, as it is difficult to support particularly due to the treatment of the animals. Furthermore, we would want people that are odd, or with any degree of disabilities to be integrated into our society, and not performing (literally) on the outskirts of it. Even so, there are reasons I still find it inspiring.
For what it was, the circus is inspiring as our oddities and eccentricities became talents to capitalise on, and in doing so, it almost seemed to be a practice of protest against the society that had marginalised those oddities in the first place. If it is deemed so strange and impossible to be a bearded woman for example (even as this is a natural hormonal inconsistency, such as PCOS), then let me grow my beard and have you pay to gawk at it! (Of course this impression of rebellion only works if we imagine that there was indeed a choice in this act, which in earlier times there most likely wasn't.)
Therefore, thinking about this balance that the circus represents between rebellion against society and being its biggest prey, I believe that we should find in it a way to take back the notions surrounding it. Our oddities and eccentricities should indeed have entire shows built around them, and they should be celebrated in this way, as they are what makes us fantastic. This should be not in a way of laughing at them, but of laughing with them.
It has been incredibly freeing to spend time with these interesting characters, and I hope they serve as a reminder to you of what makes us all special, and inspire you to love yourself, as strange as you may be. Let your freak flag fly!
Some other reasons for my interest in this theme lie with my forever interest in the grotesque and carnivalesque. "Mikhail Bakhtin recognises the qualities of the carnivalesque as mocking life and more importantly mocking and thus escaping death." These ideas are regularly played with within The Circus, from the clowns that regularly hurt themselves, to acts involving animals that might hurt their masters, to even the performers that fly around the trapeze with so much ease. Regularly and night after night, death is being made fun of, and according to Bakhtin thus escaped from.
For Bakhtin, they cannot die because they are matter, and matter is all that is real, which is what is being celebrated through the carnival's emphasis on the corporeal. Although I disagree with him it is a nice notion to entertain.
While I like Bakhtin's point about carnivalesque characters escaping death, John Ruskin makes a more radical suggestion that brings the ideas of sublime and grotesque together, revealing the links between them:
‘if the objects of horror, in which the terrible grotesque finds its materials, were contemplated in their true light, and with the entire energy of the soul, they would cease to be grotesque, and become altogether sublime’.
Here is where I think My Circus and The Circus truly lies. Even though some connotations are the exact type of grotesque that Bakhtin finds in the world of Francois Rabelais, I think once you look past them with an open soul, you will immediately be in the presence of the sublime.
And finally, one of my last reasons that inspired me to do this series was The Drawing Circus, and their incredible reference photos, provided online in these times by Draw Brighton, who have been holding wonderful life drawing classes since 2009. They are a troupe of Brighton-based artists, models, art tutors, musicians and performers who seek to promote a sense of wonder at the visual world through innovative drawing classes. I absolutely recommend them as a great resource to any artists and illustrators no matter your experience level, for reference photos galore but also incredible instructional blogs and tutoring.
Five of the ten total prints are now up on my website here. The rest will be released on the 20th of September, 2020. Find the rest of my collection of original linocut prints here.
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