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October 31, 2014
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Send in the clowns

An art exhibit, “Through the Eyes of Wendell M. Upchurch,” illustrates the artist’s “obsession” with both clowns and self-portraits. This piece is titled “Missing Eye” and is currently on display at the River Market in Barryville, NY.
TRR photos by Jonathan Fox


I think it’s safe to say that I’m not alone when it comes to a fear of clowns. From a very early age, they have made me nervous, skittish and (once in a while) downright freaked out. It still amazes me that clowns are often associated with glee, joy and happiness, since that is not my experience, but as usual, I am reminded that everyone has their own humble opinion. Scanning The River Reporter last week (yes, I read the paper) I came across a blurb about an art exhibit taking place at the River Market in Barryville, NY, titled “Through the Eyes of Wendell M. Upchurch,” which was being presented by the market, Green Door Magazine (www.greendoormag.com) and the UpFront Exhibition Space (“like” them on Facebook) of Port Jervis, NY. I was intrigued by the (IMHO) interesting partnering of the three entities and curious to discover why they would band together to celebrate this particular “prolific” artist, who I learned (from his widow, Marlene) was “obsessive” (creating hundreds of canvasses). His work ranged in subject matter from “landscapes, still-lifes, nudes, self-portraits” (scores of those) to “demons, freaks” and (oy!) the dreaded clowns, which pop up fairly often in what appear to be out-of-context apparitions, aside from other ghostly images appearing (for no discernible reason) out of the dark recesses of Upchurch’s (disturbed?) mind. Apparently, Upchurch spent some of his career entertaining terminally ill children decked out as a clown, which is admirable, but I’m guessing that he left the paintings at home.

I’m no art expert and can only rely on personal taste (which I hear there’s “no accounting for”), but I’d be lying if I said it was easy to fall asleep after viewing Wendell’s work. The soiree was hopping and included the preview of Green Door’s new issue which is (as usual) gorgeous, and packed with fabulous articles, featuring industry giant Martha Stewart, renaissance man (singer/songwriter/televised chef) Cooper Boone, local puppeteer Ramona Jan (www.ramonajan.wix.com/somestringsattached) and artist/musician/psychologist Marc Switko, among others. Both Jan and Switko are personal friends, which makes it all the more interesting that their work often disturbs me (some of her puppets are just plain creepy) and Switko’s drawings border on the macabre; so I might not have friends left by the end of this column, but I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.

Naturally, Dharma (www.facebook.com/DharmaTheWonderDog) was with me and as usual, the belle of the ball. Ironically her breed (Havanese) is known as one of many “clown dogs” for their ability to amuse and their charming visage.

Moving on to other venues, I was thrilled to learn that another playful creature (Alpacas) would be on hand for the first installment of the month-long Harvest Festival at Bethel Woods (www.bethelwoodscenter.org), which features a different theme each week. My clownish dog loves the Alpaca, so (sadly) she had to stay home, lest she attempt to play with them during the exhibit, which featured the adorable (some might say clown-like) critters (www.rosehavenalpacas.com) and the many fabulous creations spun from their incredibly soft, durable and oh-so-warm hair. The gentle giants really are as sweet as they appear, according to Rosehaven’s Rob Bruce, and once again, I entertained the thought of having a few join me and my girl at Green Acres as a permanent addition to my clownish lifestyle. “It’s absolutely doable,” Bruce told me, “and they’ll get along with Dharma terrifically. Let’s discuss it again in the spring.” Envisioning the “Insane Clown Posse” (myself included) that could be cavorting here at home tickles my funny bone, so I’ll keep you posted on that. If I had to describe myself in clown-speak, it would have to include the sad-sack aspect, which Emmett Kelly made famous, but has been repeated throughout the history of clowning. “Why are clowns often depicted as sad?” I wondered. “Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that a clown is also a fool, and it makes one sad to be thought of as foolish,” popped up in my Internet search (www.allaboutclowns.com), where there also appeared far too many images of them for my comfort level, so I veered off in a different direction. “Am I a fool for not appreciating the artwork of Wendell M. Upchurch? Perhaps. Do I play the fool while popping up at events scattered about the Upper Delaware River Valley? Undoubtedly. Is it foolish to be afraid of clowns? Who’s to say? As I scan the dark clouds that often loom overhead, I am reminded that “grey skies are gonna clear up,” so I plan to grin and bear it… and put on a happy face.