The Curtsying Clown Girl

I can’t say that I’m familiar with all the of the artists that set up booths at Kentuck every year, but not all of the faces were unfamiliar. I had met Beth Conklin last year and became interested in her art, so I sought her out this year.

Once I found Beth Conklin’s booth, I spent most of my time letting my eyes scroll through the 2-D art hanging on the walls. I analyzed the cute little quotes attached to the titles and smiled at the glow of each moon she’d edited.

Most of the art at the festival had arguably been traditional paintings and drawings with a fair handful of crafters, sculptors, and other subdivisions of 3-D art. I hadn’t seen Photoshop art anywhere else in the festival. We’d chatted before, with a bigger group of friends, but mainly because she was as interesting as her art. It was surreal in an aesthetically pleasing way. I went home and found her art on Pinterest and liked every piece . This year I wanted to focus on her more so than the festival.

I’d given Conklin a brief greeting before stepping inside of the booth and  started screenshotting every piece of art with my eyes. Most of her works included children, little girls more often than boys. She has a daughter; it shouldn’t have been a surprise. I was about to run out of storage before I finally dragged myself away from them.

“Anything you’re particularly inspired by?” I asked her. “You use a lot of Victorian era children in your art. Any reason why?”

“I’m inspired a lot by old pictures. Children are unapologetically expressive with their emotions. Always raw and uncaring,” she replied.

It was hard to not agree with her. I had plenty of little cousins that were too mouthy for their own good.

I looked at the booths surrounding hers. Almost all of them were painters.  “Why digital art?” I asked her. “Why not traditional?”

“I can’t draw,” she said. We both laughed. “If I could, I would love to do traditional art. But since I can’t draw . . .” She trailed off with a laugh, and nothing else needed to be said.

My eyes flashed back to the art hanging from the wall. I felt like I was taking too long; the funniest part was that we were both anxious and were putting pressure more on ourselves than on each other.

“I noticed you use a lot of middle fingers this year. Any particular reason?”

She chuckled, looking nostalgic. “I had been selling artworks at auctions recently, and this one older lady looked one with a little girl with her middle finger up and went ‘I want her. I want to take her home and hang on her wall.’ I decided in that moment that I definitely needed to do more bird hands.”

She didn’t have that specific work at the festival, but I had a feeling I knew how the woman felt in that moment. I found myself dragging my shifty eyes from her art again. I started to think that maybe I should’ve done this later in the day. I was too tired and anxious to do an interview, but enjoying myself too much to stop. I had an impulse-control problem, my nails dragging against my skin, making sure my hair was okay, anything to keep my hands occupied. I really just wanted to shove one down my purse and pull out my debit card so I could buy everything.

“Would you ever use family in your works?”

She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Well, one time I edited a family photo of my daughter hugging a polar bear for Christmas one year. Otherwise, not really. I have had people ask me to do something for photos. I had a one person ask me to do something with an old photo of their grandmother,” she paused. “Of course, nothing with middle fingers or anything.”

I laughed, harder than last time.

By now several people had walked by and engaged her in short conversations. A part of me was glad, I could finally let my hand catch up with my ears. I glanced through (again) and found a particular piece that shot through whatever un-stimulated cells in my head.

“Me,” I said to my walking buddy, Angie, who laughed next to me, airy and fair. “Angie, Angie!” I yelled at them.

“Oh my God!” Angie exclaimed.

It was a clown. A series of smiling clowns. One of them held a single finger to his mouth and a child was below him. I almost cried from laughter. The only thing I could think about from then on was the McDonald’s we saw on the way to the festival with half of Ronald McDonald’s body on the top of the building, waving.

Then I saw it. Her. It was like a sitcom where the girl walks by and the boy stares after her before being catching a rubber ball with his head. It was such a ‘there she is, the woman of my dreams,’ situation.

The central image was black and white, and it stood out against the other works depicting colorful clowns and screaming Catholic girls. In this one, a girl stood, holding her dress out like she was curtsying while standing up. Surrounding her were other young girls in black uniforms, mere outlines of who they should’ve been. But the girl in the center was radiant in her rainbow dress with the same bored expression on her face.

beth-conklin-2

“I love her,” I whined. “I want her.”

Angie put a hand on my back comforting me, knowing my mother wouldn’t let me buy anything more than food . . .

“Thank you for the interview, Ms. Beth.”

She smiled. “No problem. I hope I was of help.”

I spent the rest of the day stopping in every other booth while internally yelling at myself. ‘Disobey! Disobey! Go on and buy something!’

I never did, didn’t have the heart too. I left with a funnel cake, a long-sleeve shirt, and a self-made tie-dye bandanna in my arms.

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