Louis 13th, Art Deco, Bauhaus, Mid-Century Modern…
It is past time the firmament of classic design welcomes a long-neglected aesthetic. I’m referring, of course, to The Creepy Sad Clown motif.
On a recent anthropological expedition (also known as my weekly shopping trip to the Goodwill Thrift Store), I was captivated by the pictured artwork. This painting (well, actually a print executed on realistic looking CanvasEtte) brought me back to the days when such decorative touches were commonplace. I couldn’t help but wonder why the style fell from grace.
Some of you are too young to remember when The Creepy Sad Clown aesthetic was at its peak in the 1950s through early 70s. Famous Ringling Brothers clown Emmett Kelly can be credited for wiping away the funny man’s greasepaint mask to reveal the tortured pratfall artiste beneath. The rest, as they say, is history. All other sad clown portrayals grew out of his genius, and as homage (always pronounce this word with the Frenchie-Pierre silent “h” and accent on the second syllable) to his groundbreaking work.
Although clowns had always been considered somewhat scary, the realization that the guy with the squirting flower and size 25 shoes was a soul in torment served to tip the scales even more firmly toward the creepy. A design movement was born.
During its heyday, clown paintings rendered on canvas (as well as the more elegant black velvet) were to be found gracing rumpus rooms across the depth and breadth of America. For those who could not afford an original work of art, artistic prints were available in many fine design emporiums like Kresge’s, Ben Franklin, and the Woolworth’s.
This design was not limited to pictures – oh no. The Creepy Sad Clown theme was executed in commemorative plates as well as limited edition, genuine porcelain figurines. These were offered by studios such as The Bradford Exchange for 6 easy payments of only $29.99 each. One could fill an entire curio cabinet!
What did this decorating style say about those who embraced it? Perhaps that they, too, used smiling faces to hide the misery and angst of the human condition? Or maybe they just liked how the bright colors went with their sofas.
Alas, The Creepy Sad Clown motif fell out of favor. Instead of enjoying pride of place in fine homes, antique stores and art museums across America, these works of art are now chiefly found in thrift stores and church rummage sales. They have been kicked to the curb for trash pickup day, much like their former owners are moldering in tombs and nursing homes.
Groundbreaking design like this, however, will never die. Old becomes new again. The time is ripe for renewed appreciation for The Creepy Sad Clown aesthetic. All the signs indicate a resurgence for this classic design has already begun. *
Somewhere, Emmett Kelly is smiling.
(But you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that, because he has a sad expression painted on his face.)
*The discerning collector may soon find him or herself priced right out of the burgeoning market. I may be persuaded (for a modest fee) to part with this icon of vintage design as a service to one of my readers who is interested in starting his or her own collection. How does $79.99 sound? (plus shipping and handling.)