Alex Pollard: Black Marks (4 stars)

Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh,


Major Tom’s a junkie, and John Wayne Gacy’s a serial killer - it’s no wonder that clowns get a bad rap these days, and that bozophobia is apparently running rife amongst the seemingly sanest of folk. But in Alex Pollard’s show at the Talbot Rice Gallery, he brings your attention back to the elegant image of the clown, Pierrot’s trademark kohl tear mixed with the monochrome make-up box of New Romanticism. This is Pollard’s first major show since representing Scotland at the 2005 Venice Biennale, and despite some criticism that he hasn’t filled quite enough of the double-floor Talbot Rice space, it actually seems that the works are displayed in a way that skims around the periphery of the space, nodding to the way that clowns have, throughout history, existed on the outer edges of the social norm.

The work ‘Nightscape’ is drawn onto the wall in black lipstick and eyeliner, black marks that have in some places been wiped away - becoming smudged stains that could be recognised as failed attempts at masquerade by anyone who may have, at one time or another, carelessly brandished a mascara wand. A series of works entitled ‘Romo’s Getting Ready’ takes this idea a little further, with shards of fragmented eye pencils and geometric strokes of lipstick, which, when viewed from a distance, go to make up expressionist portraits - kind of a cross between Arcimboldo’s 16th century Renaissance portraits made up from vegetables and fruit, and those incredibly 1980s cosmetic tester cards that were all the rage with neon-blusher obsessed make-up artists. Of course, as you close in on these works, the illusion is shattered, and the faces fade into mere object assemblages.

Of all of the works in the show, perhaps the most striking are a collection of beautifully elegant black oil paintings - sombre silhouettes of clowns that are completely evocative of a post-punk ‘apocalypstick’ identity, and that completely bring to mind the stylishly tragic cabaret of the Thin White Duke, and the folly of human existence itself. There is indeed a lot going on under that thick panstick surface.

(Claire Mitchell)

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