Baroque, 2017

Inspired by a scene witnessed by the artist of a clown walking at night with a baseball bat in his hand, the subject of this painting has become classic: it is the solitary and sinister clown who hurts children, a character who is even creepier and more dangerous than a “usual” criminal. As in other paintings representing violent men (such as Nazi figures and the cannibal Issei Sagawa), the contrast is stark between the character’s pleasant costume and what we guess of his intentions. This contrast is enhanced by the play on lights reminiscent of Francisco de Goya, whereby the clown is surrounded by a bright halo while his dark and sinister shadow is neatly projected on the wall. In addition, he looks out of the painting, which makes the scene even spookier because we ignore what he’s looking at and what he intends to do. The treatment recalls expressionist films of the 1930s such as Tod Browning’s Freaks (United States, 1932) and there is a correspondence with the work of Belgian symbolist artist James Ensor (1860-1949), who prefigured Expressionism. Ensor created clown- and carnival-like characters that he caricatured savagely, making them monstrous and creepy as well as ridiculous. A great admirer of Ensor, Luc Tuymans curated an exhibition on him titled Intrigue at the Royal Academy of London, in 2017.