Images inspired by scenes from Lynn, Massachusetts, my home town. They are are a mixture of documentary, narrative, and social commentary.
Over the years I have created images of savage dogs, and mystical cats with women. The dogs represent human foibles and the uncontrollable perils of life, but are also humorous. The cat images came to me when my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I associate them with grieving, regardless of their mood.
I've always been fascinated by the relationship between people and animals. This series comes from a time when I used to sketch at the Suffolk Downs racetrack in Revere, Massachusetts. I drew both the gamblers and the grooms.
Everey year there is a pet parade and costume competition in Salem, Massachusetts. It used to be for dogs only, so that is the title of this series. I love the imaginative costume, and the personalties of the people and their pets. I've documented this event for many years.
Animals are my favorite subjects. They appear often in my artwork, and are a part of my life. I hope that humanity will evolve to the point where animals are acknowledged to be unique individuals.
I was a city kid who went to an agricultural high school (Essex Aggie) as an alternative to dropping out altogether. There I met some kids who lived on small family farms and had egg routes and milked cows, for real. When a wave of farm auctions hit the midwest I traveled to Iowa to see what people were experiencing.
My Season With the Circus
My season with the circus came about after I graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and needed a focus for my interest in documentary art. When I saw an ad for a cook needed by the Big Apple Circus, I contacted them and asked if they had any other jobs available. The equestrian Katje Schumann needed a groom, and after a brief interview I was hired.
I spent six months on the road with the circus, during which time I made numerous drawings and took photos documenting the workers, performers, and animals. It was a wonderful time, exciting, exhausting, occasionally dangerous, and completely magical. I would recommend a season with the circus to anyone, without hesitation.
When I came home I created the series of paintings in this show. They document the tour The Big Apple Circus Meets the Monkey King, a season in which the company included acrobats from Nanjing, China. This was in 1989, the year of the Tiananmen Square protests, and many of the acrobats defected at the end of the season. Part of my duties as a groom was to hold the horses backstage before they went into the ring, which afforded me the opportunity to take photos of performers in intimate moments; Vanessa with cramps, Taso checking his makeup in the mirror. I also hung out in the ring before and after shows, when performers practiced their routines, came up with new ones, and exercised their animals. This gave me a view to circus life from the inside, with observations and insight not possible if I had not worked there as well.
It’s sad for a circus lover to see waning public interest in this type of performance. Perhaps the incredible variety of entertainment available to us has caused the circus star to fade.
It may also be due to changing attitudes toward seeing animals perform. For me, a circus without animals is like a play without a set; a crucial element of the experience is missing. My own experience was that the animals were well-treated and seemed to enjoy their time in the spotlight. This wasn’t true every day for all animals; there were definitely days when the horses seemed grumpy and the elephants looked bored, but then there were days that I felt that way too. Is it an ideal life for all animal performers? Probably not, but with shrinking habitat and limited space in zoos, performing animals have a life that they may not be able to have in the wild. Elephant herds are routinely culled in national parks and animals are euthanized in zoos. Creative trainers have an amazing rapport with their animals, resulting from observing them closely and developing performances that evolve from natural behavior. It’s not an art that should be lost.
I hope that you enjoy these paintings. Vive la cirque!