Back in August of 2015, the Hyaena Gallery in Burbank hosted a tribute art exhibit to a topic they’d never tackled just yet. Clowns! While a large portion of the population suffers from a fear of clowns, or Coulrophobia, the gallery’s regular group of contributing artists not only encouraged this specific show, but relished in the various artistic ways to express these jesters.
Of course, a Pennywise the Dancing Clown from Stephen King’s IT was going to pop up. Or you could expect John Wayne Gacy, the famed serial killer that used his alter ego Pogo the Clown to lure his victims. (Read a bit about the history of one of his painting in our previous post here.)
But looking around at the pieces of this exhibit and seeing the diversity and creativity of the artists only warranted further investigation. So Blumhouse.com sat down with Hyaena Gallery owner and curator Bill Shafer to discuss how this show dubbed “Don’t bother, they’re here…” came about.
Blumhouse.com: The gallery has been in Burbank for over 9 years now. And in that time period you’ve done so many themed shows. Why in all that time have you never done a “clown” themed art show? It almost seems like a no brainer.
BS: The artists I work with really wanted to do it! If it wasn’t for them, I probably never would’ve done the exhibit. And I love clowns! All my friends are clowns. I knew Holly Stevens, queen of clown porn, I know several professional clowns and even Angus Oblong. My sister is a lesbian Christian clown who does clown ministries, too. I really dig clowns. (Laughs)
BH: Wow, I didn’t know you had a clown in the family! (Laughs)
BS: Yeah, yeah. But I never thought it would be something (as a show theme) that anyone would be interested in, besides myself, because a lot of people are afraid of clowns too. I had a group of the regular contributing artists come to me and say, “we really want to do a clown themed show.” And I was totally into it. Jeff Rebner and Robert Heckman came up to me with the idea.
BH: When you pick a theme or a topic for a show, how much freedom and collaboration do you have with your artists? Do they pitch ideas to you of what they want to do? How does it work?
BS: When I pick a theme, it’s normally going to be something a little more mainstream than a solo show. With a solo show, I really want to show the world what one particular artist has inside of them; what’s coming out of their head. And there is no censorship. Whatever comes out is what comes out. Some of that (freedom) is hard to digest for the mainstream public. Themed shows are a little easier, they’re a little lighter in most cases, where you can play around with stuff. But I never tell the artist what to do. I always want to see what they’ll come up with. If it’s something like a theme show to a director or something like clowns, I don’t want everyone doing the same stuff, so I’ll have them consult with me before they do anything, so I don’t end up with 15 Pennywise pieces on the wall. (Laughs) That’s usually on a first come, first serve basis too. So if an artist comes to me and says they want to do Pennywise, they get it first. And I’ll encourage the others to do something else. But if they have a great idea, I’ll let everyone do whatever they want.
BH: You hear “clown,” the first things that pop in my head are Pennywise, the Joker and John Wayne Gacy. Were you surprised by the contributions for this particular show? What were your thoughts on the pieces as they were coming in?
BS: Everyone made me really happy with this show! I love all the artists I work with anyways. And I just think they went above and beyond on some of these pieces here. So many in this show were terrific. The Creep’s pieces is great. Jason McCormack did a really great piece, one of the best he’s ever done and I’m so proud of him for that. Chris Mann did a great Lou Jacobs. Heckman killed it with The Joker. Eric Swartz’s Pennywise is practically leaping off the canvas. Lou Rusconi always has a great more twisted take on things. He did the evil Ronald McDonald.
BH: Why do you think people are afraid of clowns? Are you yourself afraid of clowns?
BS: I’ve never been afraid of clowns! (Laughs)
BH: Me neither! (Laughs) I don’t get it! But why do you think people are afraid of them? Is it some weird, twisted thing stemming from childhood?
BS: I think every third clown is a murderer. So you have to be careful! (Laughs)
BH: I don’t trust people that dress up like that!
BS: No, in all seriousness, I have no idea why people are afraid. To me, it was always cool. I like the idea of putting on a mask and being a character. With clowns, it’s almost like the mask isn’t their mask. The normal person is the mask and they’re becoming who they really are when they put on the make-up.
BH: And in a weird way, they’re making themselves into their own art.
BS: Yeah, we had Richie the Barber in here for this show. And he’s a barber in Hollywood that is tattooed like a clown. His face is 100 percent tattooed. He’s a clown 24-7. That is who he is. So you’ve got to respect that. I love it!
BH: Since the show did well, would you consider doing a follow-up “clown” themed exhibit?
BS: Aw, man. That’s a tough one, because I’m not really a fan of sequels. But sometimes we’ll do them here. There are yearly shows we’ve occasionally repeated but we don’t want to do something that the gallery or artists will get sick of. You never know though!