Think circus clowns are kids' stuff? Not always.
In the fine art paintings of Elaine Verchick, these comic performers are real, emotional beings.
“Clowns can fumble and fall, they can be awkward and silly, they can be sad,” says Verchick, a spunky grandmother who brings insight from her work as a marriage and family therapist in Beverly Hills to her favorite subject. “Clowns feel whatever they want to feel and people just accept them for it — well, those that like them do.”
Verchick certainly regards herself an admirer — a given from the moment anyone steps into her Tarzana home. In the foyer hangs a large oil painting of old time circus performers that captures the magic and slapstick of the Big Top like the kind the artist experienced in childhood, growing up in New York.
Here, the stars of her painting, titled “It's Showtime,” are a couple of bygone clowns. While one hams it up, the other strikes a tah-dah pose with an unimpressed look on his face. A closer inspection reveals the grinning face of a tiny clown face, front and center in the crowd.
That's Effie, Verchick's “caring” clown persona developed during a week at clown school a decade ago.
“I was already painting clowns but I decided to fulfil a dream,” she says. “I love clowns so I wanted to be a clown; I wanted to see what it was like.”
Verchick has appeared as Effie at a children's charity event and often puts her in paintings. Her “Reflections of a Clown” is a self-portrait that spoofs Norman Rockwell's “Triple Self-Portrait” Saturday Evening Post cover of 1960.
In her version, Effie — a clown with a short red bob, striped artists beret and suspenders — sits on a stool with her back to the viewer as she paints her likeness with the aid of a mirror. The self-portraits of Krusty the Clown, Bozo, Emmett Kelly and Lou Jacobs are tacked to the easel for reference.
“A lot of painting people look down their noses at illustrators, but Norman Rockwell was very influential for me when I started out,” she says.“Now I'm more into the classical realism: Rembrandt and (Joaquin) Sorolla and (John Singer) Sargent.”
Verchick only started painting about 15 years. She spent years in and out of art schools - Otis Art Institute, California Art Institute, Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art - learning how to draw, paint and sculpt.
When one of her life drawing instructors assigned the students to paint their choice of subject, she painted a clown - “what I love most,” she says. Although she's been branching into still life paintings of her collection of dolls, clowns, which she also collects, make up the bulk of her work to this day.
She keeps makeup and a large assortment of hats, wigs, shoes and other clown attire handy in her upstairs studio for dressing her models.
After photographing the models in different moods, she sets out to create a painting. One of her favorites is the work “Rain Drops,” featuring a sad, fresh-faced female clown in a polka-dot top hat, an oversized shirt with big black buttons, and black striped green tights.
The sexy clown is seated on a trunk in the middle of a field holding up an umbrella.
Verchick created the piece using Rockwell's grass and silvery streaks of rain. She grabbed the trees, clouds and water tower from the Web. The tents were scanned from images in a book and scattered across the background.
Elsewhere, there's a series of four moody, sepia-colored paintings of an older man in a rubber cap wig that gathers in wrinkles at his brow. With the light creating harsh shadows on his sunken cheeks he strikes a range of poses that affect different feelings, from the work titled “Passionate” to “Bold.”
“He was not in a very good mood that day, and I'm so happy about that,” she says.
“My clowns that I paint are not cutesy,” she says. “They're people.”
You can view more of Elaine Verchick's work online at www.everchick.com or by calling 818-970-1233.