Bulbous Noses and Painted Grins: Clowns! at Corey Helford Gallery

By Liz Ohanesian

Bulbous Noses and Painted Grins: Clowns! at Corey Helford Gallery

Colin Christian "Freaky Deaky"

Clowns. Once their bulbous noses and painted grins adorned living rooms and children's bedrooms across the nation. But times changed, and the great clown painting became a relic of mid-twentieth century Americana, the faces meant to provoke smiles now inducing goosebumps for the post-Pennywise generation.

It was one such 1950s painting found in an antique shop during the course of a father-son road trip that led Culver City's Corey Helford Gallery to resurrect the star of circuses and fifth birthday parties for its newest show “Clowns! The Reinterpretation of the Classic American Clown Painting.” The group show, which opened on November 15, featured fifty-two pieces commissioned by the gallery from artists ranging from the easily recognizable, like Shag, Paul Frank and Tokidoki, to up-and-comers like Sweden-based Anneli Olander and local Natalia Fabia. Several artists, including acclaimed British street artist D*Face, appeared courtesy of London's StolenSpace Gallery.

Bulbous Noses and Painted Grins: Clowns! at Corey Helford Gallery

D*Face "American Depress (Green)"

Like Corey Helford Gallery’s successful 2007 endeavor “Charity by Numbers,” which focused on reinterpretations of paint-by-number pieces, “Clowns!” juxtaposes an Americana staple with healthy doses of pop surrealism. Inside the spacious Washington Boulevard gallery owned by husband and wife team Bruce Helford and Jan Corey Helford, the iconic figure had been transformed into a ladies man (Shag “Old Decadent Clown” ), a prostitute (Natalia Fabia “Noelle the Hooker Clown”), Shakespeare’s Yorick (Donovan Crosby “I Knew Him Well") and even a credit card emblem (D*Face “American Depress (Green)”). There were clowns coated in candy colors, clowns glowing in graffiti brights, clowns crafted from naugahyde and fiberglass. And just when we thought we had seen every grinning, pasty-painted face in the gallery, in walked Angus Oblong.

Bulbous Noses and Painted Grins: Clowns! at Corey Helford Gallery

Illustrator/writer Angus Oblong flanked by friends Megan Dodson and Lenora Claire.

Oblong, the illustrator/writer responsible for Creepy Susie 13 Other Tales for Troubled Children and the unfortunately short-lived cartoon series The Oblongs (co-created and produced by Bruce Helford), arrived with a group of friends and family dressed for the occasion. Oblong himself capped off his black and white painted face with a bright red faux schnoz while the rest of his troupe marked their visages with carefully applied smears of bright blue, red and green atop the caked-on foundation. It was as though Oblong’s piece “Clown, Clown, Clown, Clown” had jumped out of its gold frame, the perfect highlight for a strangely whimsical evening.

Bulbous Noses and Painted Grins: Clowns! at Corey Helford Gallery

Paul Frank "Hoborilla"

Bulbous Noses and Painted Grins: Clowns! at Corey Helford Gallery

Donovan Crosby "I Knew Him Well"

“Clowns!” at Corey Helford Gallery runs through November 29.


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