LA COMMEDIA E FINITA

“La commedia e finita,” i.e. “The comedy is finished,” is the closing line of Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci”. The story of the tragic comic protagonist Pagliacci is a traveling clown who murders his wife Nedda and her lover in the final scene when he discovers that he is cuckolded. My current body of work aka La Commedia e Finite” explores our relationships with the icons of clowns, jesters and fools and their unique and mirrored relationships with the individual and society.

Enter Pierrot
 

Pierrot, the sad clown with white face and loose white blouse, emerged in the nineteenth century from his roots in stock comedies and pantomimes to become the embodiment of a certain artistic type. He is a specific strain of artistic emotion: sensitive, melancholy, solitary and at once playful and daring in subverting language and suggesting the fraught but still facile and fluctuating nature of gender.                   

Jean-Gaspard Deburau, a mime from Kolín, was most responsible for this recreation of Pierrot. He began appearing in Paris at the Théâtre des Funambules some time around 1819. He extended and deepened Pierrot with his restrained and nuanced acting style replacing the tendency towards bold and gesticulating comedy. Gaining recognition and increasing fame towards the end of the 1820s, Deburau’s Pierrot would even be compared to the works of Shakespeare when, in 1842, the versatile and distinctly modern man-of-letters Théophile Gautier wrote a fictionalized review entitled, ‘Shakespeare at the Funambules’. It is Deburau who established the sense of Pierrot as a sensitive and anguished artist.

Gautier’s piece was one of the first entwinements of Pierrot with literature. Writers including Flaubert, Verlaine and Huysmens incorporated Pierrot into their works.  Most extensively, he was the central figure in the poetry of Jules Laforgue. Laforgue was a great influence upon a young T. S. Eliot. One can argue that Prufrock is Pierrot in America; lonely, an outsider, a dreamer, and hopeful of romance. The same can also be said for the character of Joyce’s Stephan Dedalus as well as Chaplin’s Little Tramp.  He also appeared in canvases by painters who led their art form into modernity: including Seurat, Cezanne, Picasso and Dubuffet among others.  David Bowie appeared as Pierrot in the video to his 1980 song ‘Ashes to Ashes’ ushering Pierrot into the current era.

We are all fools and we all wear masks and we are all socially guarded. “La Commedia e Finita” explores the persona beneath the mask. Clowns in various states of repose and undress allow us enter the persona off the stage. These clowns whose employ this are based on their ability to make us laugh at life, collapsing into their own private world of despondency and mental fatigue. The 21st century Pierrot becomes a melancholic personality experiencing ill luck but who never loses hope. His makeup gives him a sameness which hides his individual soul and its ups and downs from society. Though all of them share the visual homogeneity of Pierrot, they are individual in gender, race, orientation, age and soul. As Pagliacci is about to commit his crime he cries out “Non! Pagliacci non son!”, “I am not Pagliacci!”, reminding us that we are all more than we appear on the outside. In their solitude and demeanor these clowns become an unsettling dark mirror of the times we exist in.
 

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