Brian J. Sullivan
When I was younger, I would dream about running away with the circus. Its lifestyle held some kind of allure for me. I even went so far as to pack my Cub Scouts backpack and walk south down the railroad tracks that went behind our house. But I got no farther than the local IGA grocery store at the edge of town. The tracks continued into the distance, converging at the horizon line. As it grew darker, I would inevitability retreat back home to the comfort of my own room and bed. Many a night I would drag my green wool army blanket onto our concrete patio, lie on my back and stare at the stars until I would fall asleep. In my mind I was a thousand miles away helping set up the Big-Top under the stars in some distant town.
Never mind that I knew nothing about the lifestyle of the circus, had no acrobatic skills, or was only seven years old; I wanted to be a carnie. Now, 42 years later, I find myself living the nomadic lifestyle as I travel from town to town, setting up my art fair tent to hawk my goods. How little has changed since my boyhood dreams of running away with the circus filled my head.
I was young, naive, and did not bother myself with such details of how I was going to eat or pay my bills as a carnie. Each night my supper would magically appear on the table in front of me. During the day, my mother slaved away in the kitchen. My father would come home each weekday at 5:00 pm after fighting rush hour traffic. We would have dinner at precisely 5:30. There were no animals to feed or tents to pack. Once a year we would all pile into the car and take a road trip somewhere. For two weeks we would drive from place to place seeing new lands from the safety of our automobile. That was the only respite I got from the boring routine of daily life.
I did not choose to be an artist anymore than someone chooses to be black or white, straight or gay, tall or short. It was simply something I had always done. Being an artist was who I was. I did not go to school to learn art. I was making art long before my first formal art class decided to make an art project out of Styrofoam cups and paper plates. Each project I did was a masterpiece in my mother's eyes and was proudly hung on the refrigerator under magnets in the shape of different kinds of fruits. Soon forgotten, it was eventually replaced with more recent work.
I wish I could understand my obsession with being on the road. Looking back it appears it may have been in my genes, something I may have been born with. While I don't understand it, I know I am drawn to it. I love being on the road, exploring new things, seeing new places, the sense of adventure, and even the danger. I love meeting thousands of people, most of whom are very interesting characters, not unlike the clowns of the circus but without the makeup on. There have even been times when I could not tell if I was talking to a male or female or maybe a transvestite. However, to each his own. I am strange in my own ways, and they are strange in their own ways.
At the last fair I attended, there was this 40-ish year old athletic looking black man who would dress up in a tight fitting majorette's uniform and parade up and down the city streets, twirling his baton and blowing his whistle to some imaginary beat. He stood approximately six foot four. At two o'clock each day he would come parading through the art fair grounds doing his little routine and attracting attention where ever he went. His body suit was covered in a rainbow of colored sequins and seemed to strain to keep his bulging muscles from busting out the seams. He wore ankle-high white leather marching boots with black heels, and he performed to his own beat, oblivious to his surroundings. Was it an act like some theatrical performer or clown? Was he certifiably crazy and returned each night to the lockup ward of the local hospital? Was he gay and simply expressing himself? I would never really know the motivation behind such acts. Secretly I was jealous. I could never let myself go and be that totally uninhibited.
However, at each art fair I would subconsciously fall back into my stereotypical artist routine. You know the on—the reclusive, bohemian artist who struggles for his next meal. There is also a certain "dress" I must adhere to, to further perpetuate the myth, mystic, and aura of the artist persona. It is a game that I play with each patron who comes into my booth. Let's face it—most people would be a little startled and confused if they walked into my booth and saw me wearing a three piece suit, a nice tie and wing tip shoes. In addition, I could be sitting behind a polished marble desk and have a copy machine in one corner. A secretary could be taking my orders and giving out receipts for any art work purchased. How, I ask you, is this any different from the parading transvestite or the clowns at the circus who cover up their real feelings with globs of white face paint, checkered clothes and big red shoes? We all perform in our own ways.
Even the patrons walking the art fair provide more entertainment than they realize. Take for instance the lady who walks around carrying her miniature dog, with bright blue ribbons in its hair, in a little shoulder bag as if it were some invalid. I hate that she draws attention away from my booth and onto herself. Same with parents with baby strollers. Not just regular strollers but the tandem kind which is inevitability loaded with kid toys and paraphernalia as the kids run free throughout the massive crowds. And then there are the people who buy the customary "crap on a stick," thinking that they just bought the world's greatest art as they proudly hold it high above their heads for all to see how awful their taste really is. I sometimes think the vendors who sell such trash pay people to walk around as shills, secretly hawking their wares. Then there are the young girls who are going fishing. Their clothes leave little to the imagination. They are not at the fair to buy art, but to expose the art they have. Or how about the guy who is at every fair with a ten foot boa constrictor wrapped around his shoulders and waist. He acts as if this is perfectly natural. Or what about the two extremely over weight sisters, in matching purple electric three-wheeled scooters, laboring by my booth, each eating her own plate of curly fries?
It is now late at night. I am zipping up my tent after another long day. It is a clear night and I glance up at the stars. Maybe I did run away and join the circus.