La Commedia e Finite

“La commedia e finita”, i.e. “The comedy is finished”, is the closing line of Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci”. Pagliacci is the story of the tragic comic protagonist Pagliacci, 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 “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.

In 1842, the versatile and distinctly modern man-of-letters Théophile Gautier wrote a fictionalized review entitled ‘Shakespeare at the Funambules’. Establishing 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. One can argue that Elliot’s 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.