Clown Face Tribal Space: Allison Schulnik’s Cosmos
Fellini’s film “The Clowns” was much more expansive than the comedic themes usually associated with the performance variety. Watching a mother clown give birth while swinging from the trapeze, umbilical cords unfurling through the air beneath the wombish expanse of the big top is a little more involved than the slapstick antics of mere entertainment. Allison Schulnik slightly touches on this element of humor in a lot of her recent paintings; a sardonic depth grips the content with hysterical madness much like “The Clowns”, leaving the viewer teetering on a fulcrum of fright and enjoyment.
The stylistic technique Schulnik applies is as prominent as the content. “Cemetery Boo #2” presents a figure casually reclined in the foreground; his flop hat drooping down in clumsy clumps of vibrant paint, his face obscured beneath a gauche mask pulsing and luminescent as a NASA quasar image. But beyond, lifeless trees arch and almost extend out of the painting with texture, shadowing an outcrop of gravesite memorials. ‘You shouldn’t take life too seriously,’ the painting seems to say. “Scarecrow” implores a similar figure with the same type of post-impressionistic/pre-expressionistic, waveringly vivid brush technique that defined Van Gogh. Only an anxiety is evident upon the mask of this figure, seeming less cosmic and more entrenched in humanity.
Schulnik, almost invariably, implements the clownish guise for the faces of her figures. “Big Scare-Bo Head”, “Hobo Clown with Bucket”, “Captain”, “Mermaid with Legs”, and many others all don smeared, speckled, over-blushed and powder-caked faces that almost come across as sculpture in their piled on density and protrusion outside the parameters of the two-dimensional object that is usually called a painting. The form is profound and intimidating like the masks of tribespeople that are donned in rituals to ward off evil spirits. And Schunlik’s works do attempt to create the sensation of the tribal communion in the sense of de-territorializing the face; post-facial, the figures all employ the same type of guise, deemphasizing the individual and promoting a collective identity.
Tribal primitivism extends beyond the r ough strokes and chaotic merging of figures and space. “Sebastian” integrates primitive belief on several levels. The multiplicity of spiny appendages that snake symmetrically around the figure imply again the sense of collectivity. The same multiplicity is found again in the creature’s bosom, convex outlines of pectorals overlapping and then drooping down and perking out to seem like a field of breasts. The orgiastic sense of this multi-armed, multi-breasted creature is compounded as the viewer acknowledges the enormous phallus erect beneath them all. The transmutation from animal to man and the compounding of sexuality both indicate a primitive mytho-genesis. As Schulnik likes to extend her subjects from one painting to another, (“Mermaids with Crab”, for instance, incorporates the same multi-appendaged, multi-breasted sexual symmetry, only with lighter tones that accentuate the more obviously female engendered theme), even her older works–her stop-motion films, her sculptures–all seem to conjugate in the fantastic cosmos of her unsurpassed style.
- Howard Halverson