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Another winter comes with its cold, gentle embrace. Gusts of wind are whistling through the tops of the bare trees and blowing the dust all around. All the streets, lanes and alleys are already empty. Church bells are ringing in the distance and it’s time for the clown, the hobo clown, to begin his (con)quest. Los Angeles-based artist, painter, sculptor and filmmaker Allison Schulnik reshapes an imaginary kingdom where diversity, displacement and alienation are a cause for romantic research.
First Image: Blue Head, 48” x 48” oil on linen, 2011, Courtesy of ZieherSmith, New York
Her stories move slowly between different backgrounds, motifs and scenarios thick-studded with a rich array of sad characters who get inevitably discarded and misrepresented in our society. The Hobo emerges as a recurrent image in her precious work. His historical significance derives from the american definition of being a vagrant; a drifter without a settled home or a family, used in the late19th and early 20th to describe the stories and attitudes current among the men of the road. Jack London (The Road, 1907) and Jack Kerouac were perhaps the most representative voices of the hobo culture. In his essay «The Vanishing American Hobo», published in the magazine Holiday in 1960 and reprinted in Lonesome Traveler, in 1960, Jack Kerouac quotes a little poem mentioned by Dwight Goddard in his Buddhist Bible to express the original hobo dream: «Oh for this one rare occurrence / Gladly would I give ten thousand pieces of gold! / A hat is on my head, a bundle on my back, / And my staff, the refreshing breeze and the full moon».
Clown With Hands, and detail, oil on linen, 84” x 68”, 2011
Home for Hobo #2 (Currier & Ives), oil on linen, 68″ 96″, 2009
Allison Schulnik elaborates her ethical and aesthetic vision of liberation and individualism in much the same way. Hidden behind the mirror of isolation, there’s always a fiercely self-reliant creature. “My fixation on these characters is not intended to exploit deficiencies, but to find valor in adversity. Hobo clowns, misshapen animals or alien beasts, they are typically built upon a human frame, drawing from film and dance. I like to blend earthly fact, blatant fiction and lots of oil paint to form a stage of tragedy, farce, and raw, ominous beauty — at times capturing otherworld buffoonery, and other times presenting a simple earthly dignified moment” (A.Schulnik)
Hobo with Bird, oil on linen, 84” x 68”, 2009
Big Monkey Head #2, oil on canvas, 60″ x 60″, 2010
Schulnik’s work features a constantly changing world soaked with infinite possibilities, as illustrated in her marvellous claymation videos.
Hobo Clown, 2008. Stop-motion/claymation video, 5 min. Featuring Grizzly Bear’s Granny Diner, Japanese bonus track from the 2006 album, Yellow House.
Forest, 2009. Stop-motion/claymation video, 4:30 min. Used as the music video for Ready, Able (Veckatimest, 2009) for the Brooklyn-based band Grizzly Bear
Schulnik’s whimsical claymations, paintings and porcelain ceramic sculptures provide for a fascinating insight into her visionary exploration that incorporates a myriad of artistic influences: Bruce Bickford, Glenn Brown, Music, Lightning Bolt, German expressionist films, Eric Yahnker, Andre Butzer, Jules Engel, Ub Iwerks, E. Michael Mitchell, Ray Harryhausen, Jan Svankmeyer, Klaus Kinski and Terry Gilliam, just to name a few.
Hobo Clown with Long Nose, 2011, ceramic and wood pedestal, 17 x 10 x 10 inches (ceramic), 34 x 10 x 10 inches approx. (pedestal), Courtesy of ZieherSmith, New York
It’s always interesting to see the perspective of an artist on another artist, musician or director’s work. For instance, Schulnik’s overwhelming dramatic energy and theatricalism blend seamlessly with the world described in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King (1991). Surprisingly, Schulnik’s Long Hair Hobo is very similar to Gilliam’s Parry (Robin Williams) in spirit, feeling and disposition. Without dwelling on the despair and suffering revealed through their eyes, Allison’s Hobo and Parry are forlorn rejects (or fools) undertaking the same journey into romance, imagination, passion and self-knowledge. The movement of their invisible pilgrimage is not defined solely by external incidents, but also by internal, psychic turmoils, artistically (and theatrically) represented in the dream-content, as Carl G. Jung sums up: “If our dreams reproduce certain ideas these ideas are primarily our ideas, in the structure of which our whole being is interwoven. They are subjective factors, grouping themselves as they do in the dream, and expressing this or that meaning, not for extraneous reasons but from the most intimate prompting of our psyche. The whole dreamwork is essentially subjective, and a dream is a theatre in which the dreamer is himself the scene, the player, the prompter, the producer, the author, the public, and the critic.” (CW 8: The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, General Aspects of Dream Psychology, 1916)
The Funeral Party, and detail, oil on linen, 102” x 132”, 2010
Schulnik’s characters are all unmistakably dreamers. They’re just the same as us. Dreamers wandering in a constant state of painful uncertainty, and still haunted by sad memories of the past. It’s no coincidence that Schulnik chooses Scott Walker’s song, It’s Raining Today, to accompany her sixth and latest animated short,MOUND (It’s raining today / But once there was summer and you / And dark little rooms / And sleep in late afternoons / Those moments descend on my windowpane / I’ve hung around here too long / Listenin’ to the old landlady’s hard-luck stories / You out of me, me out of you / We go like lovers / To replace the empty space / Repeat our dreams to someone new).
MOUND, a sublime parable about what it means to be on the outside, stands as the most touching claymation the artist ever made. It is part of her current exhibition at New York’s ZieherSmith and features over 100 hand-sculpted and sewn puppets, the labor-intensive piece took nearly eight months, at times requiring 2 hours to create a single frame. To put it simple: Mound represents a visual, emotional experience you can’t miss. Seriously, you can’t love anything more than this.
Born in 1978 (San Diego, CA), Schulnik earned her BFA in Experimental Animation from the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia (CA). She has had significant solo exhibitions in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Rome and London, and has exhibited in both visual arts shows and film screenings around the world. Her work can be seen in the public collections of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (KS), Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (CA), The Chaney Family Collection (TX) and Museé de Beaux Arts (Montreal). In 2013, she will have a solo exhibition at the Laguna Art Museum, California. The artist lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.