Coulrophobia | Andrew King | Project Space

September 1st - October 14th, 2016

Andrew King, Clown, block print, n.d. EAGM Permanent Collection, Graciously donated by the Derksen family.

ANDREW KING: COULROPHOBIA

When Andrew King and his advertising company King Show Prints made these prints they represented a joyful escape from the everyday. The era“1919 – 1958, is often referred to as the “golden age” of travelling entertainment, which provided King his opportunity to create advertisements to fill this niche market.”1

Carving into wood blocks is the first step to creating these prints. A relatively uncommon process for mass-produced prints, the process of “wood engraving in the Enterprise Show Print Plant [began] in 1914.”2 Each colour seen in the final poster had its own carved block. The parts of the block that need to transfer ink are left intact and the rest of the surface is carved away using chisels and routers. The carved blocks were inked up and run in sequence through a press to achieve the final prints. Operating out of Estevan, King mastered this process to such an extent that clients used his prints across North America.

From our current technologically informed vantage point, we marvel at the artistry inherent in making these prints. Simultaneously, contemporary viewers are often ambivalent or horror-struck when confronted with the clowns in these images. Almost one hundred years earlier, these same images were cause for delight and excitement.

Much has changed during this time to make us read these images in such a strikingly different way. The news and entertainment industries, with their common reliance on fear motivated this shift. There are multiple reasons that the sight of a clown brings up negative emotions. In the 1970s, John Wayne Gacy became identified as the “Killer Clown,” a handy sobriquet for newspaper reports that hinged on the unexpectedness of his killing… [fueling] America’s already growing fears of “stranger danger” … [and making] clowns a real object of suspicion.”3 Other times, we actively seek the thrill we get from watching horror films. With the mischievous nature of clowns descending into darker territory, they make ideal villains as seen in depraved figures like Batman’s Joker or Stephen King’s It.

Our own connectedness has led to a critical mass of people bonding over their shared fear of clowns, and bestowing on it the name of Coulrophobia. This is a young word, not officially recognized by professional psycologists, yet for those who experience it, the fear is real. Taking a closer look at these images can give us the opportunity to question how and why we perceive fear.

- David Dyck, Associate Curator, 2016

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1. Amber Andersen, Andrew King: Welcome to the Circus (Estevan, SK: Estevan Art Gallery, 2012), 30.

2. Andrew King, Pen, Paper & Printing Ink (Saskatoon, SK: Modern Press), 79.

3. Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, "The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary," Smithsonian Magazine, July 31, 2013, , accessed September 01, 2016, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-history-and-psychology-of-clowns-being-scary-20394516/?device=ipad?no-ist.

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