Ghost of a Clown…

Self Portrait as Zucchini by Clinock. 2012. 15″ x 21″. Chalk pastels and conte.

Another self portrait – but this time transmogrified by the surprise appearance of an old friend. The deep shadowing of the light I was using transformed into a clown’s painted face and Zucchini returned to remind me of an alter-ego almost forgotten. I was once, in the ’70s, a member of a traveling troupe of circus performers: The Aphrodesian Dancers. We were funded by a Local Initiative Project grant (LIP) from the Canadian government. We traveled in an ancient school bus – a twentieth century Family of Saltimbanques visiting summer craft fairs and rock concerts all over British Columbia.

Family of Saltimbanques by Picasso. 1905. 83″ x 90″. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art.

The group’s instigator and artist, Tresham Gregg, created large and magical Shamanic masks from wood and metal. As the dancers in his show we wore these masks strapped to our bodies with leather straps – difficult to dance in but visually enchanting. In our adult related performance we dancers appeared symbolically as Rain, Wind, Fire, and other elements and also as various mythical deities and spirits. The theme of the dance was dark and violent – a familiar tale of a hero descending to hell to complete a quest, struggling and killing a variety of evil characters, demons and beasts. The live soundtrack was supplied by a rag tag group of hippie musicians who followed the circus from town to town.

Aphrodesian Dancer in performance. Mask by Tresham Gregg.
Aphrodesian Dancer in performance with musicians. Mask and costume by Tresham Gregg.

To balance the dark side a group of us dancers created a Children’s Theater performance with an Alice Tea Party, a clown and various other fantasy figures.

I played Zucchini, a mute, Hobo Clown and I was also the White Rabbit. It was Zucchini who revisited me while drawing this self portrait. This is an aging Zucchini sans wig and props. He is older and wiser now but still sadder on the inside than the outside. He was a long abandoned ghost but now I welcome him back into my life with his miming humour, Harpo squeeze horns, clumsy juggling and battered old suitcase.

How much of our persona is symbolized by the Clown, the Joker, the Trickster? Contemporary books and movies have turned us against the Clown figure as an evil presence but originally was he not the Jester in the court of Kings who was often the only voice of reason?

Perhaps we should return to the ancient custom of a Jester’s presence in our governing institutions – not only for comedic relief but also to add some much needed non-linear wisdom…?

Credits: You can see more of Tresham Gregg’s artwork atΒ
Picasso’s painting from Google Images
Photos of Aphrodesian Dancers by Clinock.

23 thoughts on “Ghost of a Clown…

  1. The jester was allowed to tell the king truths no others could and how many lessons can only be learned by being tricked into learning? ( see Merlin and Don Juan Matus among many others), wow the Aphodesian Dancers looked amazing.


  2. A Jester in the white-house. I like that. πŸ™‚
    Another really cool selfie. Also love the story of your life. It’s funny how our past experiences/lives stay with us and reveal themselves from time to time.


    1. Zucchini for President? Thanks for your comment Terry – yes, so much lies buried under multi layers of time and often seems to emerge when one needs an ally…


  3. Hi John, what a wonderful part of your life those days must have been! πŸ™‚ The Aphrodesian Dancers… I shall google to find more info. You have made a great portrait of your Zucchine personality !
    Sometimes at night when I watch myself in the darkness of the window, I see my grandmother’s face appear in the shadows of my own. Scary but also amazing lol.


    1. Thank you Ina – it was a truly magical time amongst many such in my life. I doubt if you will turn up much about the troupe on Google – I couldn’t find anything – it was long ago and the troupe was disbanded when the grant ran out. The ghosts of family discover many ways to visit – in windows and mirrors and in the faces and gestures of our children…


  4. Hi John, that traveling troupe must have been a lot of fun. I am reminded of studying the Commedia dell’arte at an earlier time of my life. You lived it. Love the portrait and how it evolved. It sensitive and full of pathos. Your idea of putting more clowns…sorry Jesters in government has appeal. I do see the difference. Best wishes, Robert


    1. Thank you Robert – Yes, it was fun but like Ray Bradbury’s circus there was also a dark side – but don’t all adventures give the hero deep shadow beings to be fought and conquered?


  5. I really do need to cross the border to buy you some beers. What an interesting story. And…I couldn’t agree with you more about bringing a jester into our political culture…need one per branch of government (House, Senate, Supreme Court, White House, Media, and the Lobbyist wing).


  6. Wow!! Zuchini remembers the old days! What a lovely presentation of our Aphrodesian Dancers show. This is Tresham Gregg and I am still creating shows from time to time. I remember you well – especially at the Festival of the Sun in Duncan. Actually the grant ran out very early in the Aphrodesian Dancers effort – the community options society in Duncan. We went on to perform for a number of years after that surviving and funding ourselves more or less by magic – or a great trust in the cosmos. We performed at the First World Symposium on Humanities at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Vancouver in 1976 and later went down to San Luis Obisbo , California for a grand Festival of the Sun experience.
    As for the Clown/jester concept, I do have a script in my archives where the main character is the jester – the bastard son of the reigning monarch who comments in mime about the issues of the court. It seems the world takes itself far too seriously and could do with a better sense of humor. Check out my new website: and look for stage and puppet shows. Hope to hear from you, Tresham


    1. Amazing and quite a mind trip / time warp to hear from you Tresham. So glad you are still pouring magic into a world that needs it more and more. My presentation above was made in my early days of blogging and could use some finesse, at least in format if not in spirit. Apologies if some facts not historically factual, memories of those days fade in and out and I often need to resort to poetic license. Thanks so much for getting in touch…I will check out your website. If you ever perform in Vancouver please let me know…


  7. Thanks for the response, Zuchini. I found it really an amazing mind trip to discover your blog about what we did and have the positive feedback for it all. Often it seems that we are not recognized for what we have done in the past as life goes on its changing ways. Please do email me so we have a more direct connection.


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