Someone left a rather nice comment on my chunky fairy over at Epilogue t’other day, saying that they’d initially been a fan of my work for the dark stuff, but they had enjoyed my turn to comedy.
This notion kinda threw me for a minute, and I found myself tossing off an absent reply that the two weren’t really that different, and going on about my business, but as with so many things, this continued to idily percolate through my brain with the usual jitter-flop jitter-flop of the three-legged frog on a hamster wheel that passes for my cognition.
In the end, I stick to my guns. They’re not all that different. There’s a kind of pre-built audience for either one–you know that people respond well to funny, and to dark, in about equal numbers (and frequently the same people, of course.) People like to laugh, and they like to angst. And either one has to avoid the pitfall of being too obvious, or too cliche, or too inaccessibly personal. In-jokes are only funny to the dozen people they’re for, and while I might have a hideous terror of looking under my bed and finding…an artichoke…lurking in the darkness, due to that incident where I was chased around an ice sculpture by an enraged artichoke-wielding mime,* it’s a hard sell to the rest of the populace. (Mimes, on the other hand, are inherently creepy, like clowns and dolls and most other things that look sort of human but aren’t, and thus are a pretty easy sell.)
Thing is, there’s an overlap. The lurking artichoke might not be scary, but because it isn’t, it’d probably be funny if you did it right. Clowns are meant to be funny, but they’re scary. B-movies are funny in their lack of scariness. (The reverse doesn’t seem to be true–I can’t think of any comedies that left me afraid to sleep without a night light, but nevertheless.) People have told me occasionally that Mortimer the Bad Egg is a seriously creepy egg, and in the same breath that the egg-beater wielding assassin was funny. If a piece isn’t one, it’s often the other–or else it just sucks, in which case there are other problems to be addressed.
There’s probably some complicated explanation rooted in primate psyche about how the smile evolved from a threat display and how humor is derived from the relief that it’s not something horrible, but most of my books by Desmond Morris are still in a box under the bed, and will be until I have the spare cash to buy more bookcases. So we won’t worry about that.
Maybe my gradual shift from more dark subjects to more cute, snuggly, and just plain bizarre subjects is hormonal–I’m not the person I was at twenty, and my hormones have settled from the jaggy, anxious tail end of adolescence into the rather rounded plop heralding my eventual slide into middle-age. Maybe I just don’t have much of a well of angst any more. Maybe funny is just easier. Put a potato in harness and you’ve got comedy, but there’s very little you can do with a potato to make it an object of horror, unless my cooking counts. I suppose if you set up a very elaborate tale with a serial killer who left a potato jammed in some orifice of his victims, you could eventually work up to a scene where the sight of a potato reduced people to screams of terror, but that sort of thing is hard to do in a single painting.
I have no idea where I was going with this, really, and was further distracted by Prairie Home Companion, which featured a folk song that rhymed “perimeter” and “scimitar” and did not so much derail my train of thought as plunge it off a cliff into the ocean. But anyway. The big motivations to paint something dark these days for me is the desire to do it well–if I seem one more bloody doll or edgily filtered Brom-knockoff, I may hemmorhage. Which is the motivation for a great deal of art, so I suppose it doesn’t really count.
*This actually happened to me, except it didn’t have any artichokes.