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Commedia dell’arte – April Fools and Clowns

26 April 2015

My first time life modelling for Art Macabre was as Egon the skeleton clown in their 2013 Circus of Skeletons. That day also happened to be my birthday, and in many ways each Art Macabre booking since then has felt like a cause for celebration. Last Saturday with them at The Book Club in Shoreditch I was a clown re-born.

Indeed, I was to be one of four clowns. Mary Beth Morossa would play the role of Pierrot, FiFi Croissant would be Colombina, and I would be Harlequin – all famed characters derived from the Commedia dell’arte. Our fourth clown was la magnifica direttore di arte macabra, Nikki aka Raven Rouge.

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Pierrot © Mary Beth Morossa
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Colombina © Art Macabre
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Harlequin © Art Macabre
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Raven Rouge © Art Macabre

There was to be lots of body and face painting so we all arrived early. Although this was their first time with Art Macabre, both FiFi and Mary Beth regularly adopt clown personas for other cabaret performances. They settled down and deftly transformed themselves with the most beautifully observed, complex visages.

For me the process was less exquisite but more thorough. Nikki began painting multi-coloured diamonds from my clavicles, down the front of my body to my knees and my elbows; then down my back to my ankles. I received a face-painted black mask and was topped-off with ruff, cuffs and hat.

All set, the artists were let in to collect drawing materials and gather into comfortable arcs around our little platform. Nikki stepped forward and first challenged everyone to take one minute to design their own macabre clown face. She then set the scene for the poses we would be presenting.

Foremost in our afternoon’s work would be the Commedia dell’arte’s seven primary emotions, considered universal across all cultures: joy, grief, fear, anger, surprise, love and laughter. First Nikki summoned Mary Beth’s Pierrot to begin with delicate interpretations of ‘grief’ and being ‘in love’ over two 2-minute poses.

While Mary Beth emoted, FiFi skipped and danced backstage. I wondered how she would manage to stay motionless for the artists. When her turn came, however, she faced them down firmly with fists on hips as ‘anger’ incarnate for 5 minutes. I would be next, emotions still to be declared.

First Nikki asked for five minutes of ‘surprise’ – but what kind of surprise? I decided against a joyful surprise, like bumping into a long-lost friend, as joy would come later. Instead I opted for a recoiling shocked surprise, as though an animal was jumping at me. It would make for a more dramatic, dynamic pose.

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Next would be five minutes of ‘joy’. This time Nikki was looking for an open front-facing standing pose, so that’s what I presented: upright at the centre of the stage with arms outstretched as if trying to sweep up the whole room into a single joyous embrace.

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When I’d finished spreading joy, we welcomed back FiFi and Mary Beth for our first group tableau. Harlequin, with little red ukulele, would be serenading Colombina while a jealous Pierrot sat unhappily alongside. FiFi and I would be gazing into each other’s eyes for 10 minutes…

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Normally I would direct my stare slightly over the other model’s shoulder as some find prolonged eye contact a bit awkward. FiFi, however, is never off duty on stage. She winked, flickered her gaze, smiled… I responded in kind while gurning a big ugly grin throughout. We continued our mini expression performance through the whole pose.

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At the end, Nikki spared Pierrot any further emotional torment and left Harlequin and Colombina to complete the first half of the session with a 15 minute duo pose. After a break for refreshment and costume tweaks, Pierrot returned for 20-minutes solo.

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Mary Beth’s solo pose was the day’s big crowd-pleaser. Fast-forward to when we had finished and Nikki invited everyone to lay out their favourite drawings for all to admire, there were as many of this pose as there were of all our other poses put together – a reflection perhaps of its inspirational pathos, beauty and elegant simplicity

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For the final 15 minutes the three Commedia dell’arte clowns were united once more. Nikki called for us to glare menacingly out at our audience. I sat cross-legged on a table, elbows on knees, staring fixedly over a pyramid of fingers. It was FiFi’s cold coquettish look askance, however, that captured most artists’ attention.

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At close of play there was generous applause from all quarters. Art was shared with enthusiasm and received with warm admiration. Before disappearing to get changed and wash off our make-up, we all posed for a final few photos – permanent reminders of our impermanent body art.

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© Art Macabre

Artists dispersed and we set to clearing away. It had been yet another successful Art Macabre Drawing Salon; the latest in a succession of highly popular, usually sold-out events. Nikki has created something wonderful, and she continues to overflow ideas, each one to be meticulously researched and refined on its way to becoming a rich, riotous reality. Such genius, such moments to treasure.

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© Art Macabre

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One Comment
  1. boykog permalink

    Reblogged this on BoykoG’s Blog and commented:
    Improbable, non-existent, funny Art Macabre is duly deserving worthy place on the caleidoscopic art scene of London. My next in the wish list…

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