Sunday, April 15, 2012

Not Clowning Around~Red Skelton as a Serious Painter of Clowns

Red Skelton was all over TV and radio from the 1940s through the 1960s. I always loved to watch his TV show. His boyish giggle, mistakes on camera, and his self-effacing persona were endearing. I found out he painted clowns when I was very young. As I wound my way up the art historical ladder at New York University and Columbia, I have to admit I found his artwork a little laughable at the time. I was suffering from art snobbism which I have recovered from now that I am older.
Don't get me wrong, Red Skelton is no Michelangelo or great artist, but his work deserves study. 

It appears he is self taught and uses himself as a model. The clowns emit a simple poignancy probably coming from the artist himself. Are clowns really happy or sad--or both. His art addresses this dichotomy.

Richard Bernard "Red" Skelton (July 18, 1913 – September 17, 1997) was an American entertainer best known for being a national comedian between 1937 and 1971. Skelton,  began his show business career in his teens as a circus clown and continued on in films radio, TV, night clubs, all while he pursued an entirely separate career as an artist.

Skelton began producing artwork in 1943, but kept his works private for many years. He said he was inspired to try his hand at painting  after visiting a large department store that had various paintings on display.

Skelton was a Renaissance 'clown' and was interested in many arts. Skelton was a prolific writer of both short stories and music. After sleeping only four or five hours a night, he would get up at 5 AM and begin writing stories, composing music, and painting pictures. He wrote at least one short story a week and had composed over 8,000 songs and symphonies at his death. Skelton was also interested in photography; when attending Hollywood parties, he would take photos and give the films to newspaper reporters waiting outside. He was also an avid gardener who created his own Japanese garden and bonsai trees at his Palm Springs home.

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