However specific what we know about him may be, a distinct lack of further biographical information builds up an aura of mystery around C.T. McClusky’s works covering the walls of the backroom at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art.
He’s known to have worked as a circus clown in mid 20th century and his artworks are rooted directly in the unique atmosphere of his surroundings. This complete set of works were discovered by John Turner in 1975 at a flea market , then working as a curator for the now closed Museum of Craft and Folk Arts in San Francisco and it’s easy to imagine his delight upon coming across a beaten up suitcase full of drawings and collages reminiscent of Toulouse-Lautrec’s scenes of European night life and the ruckus of a transitional period, where the early modernist/revisionist agenda and romantic decadence were at play in fairly equal measure.
The modestly sized works on display are McClusky’s reflections on the lively nature of daily circus life. He’s role is one of an observer, peaking in other entertainers practicing their tricks, girls and elephants glorified to no end. A couple of pieces have large newspaper clippings, detailing the competitive nature of the camp from the perspective of a reporter. But despite the festive nature of this environment, an unmistakeable
air of melancholy is present within each picture. Pictures of animals are cut from cereal and cracker boxes, while candy wrappers are employed to take care of special effects. Cowboys on horses, office workers and ballerinas are placed around the stage in one picture, while another combines a plate of sausage and beans with barely dressed dancers. One can feel McClusky’s longing for the conventional lifestyle of American families as a couple of drawings compositionally pit bundled up groups of animals against merry families with children on bike rides or walking into idyllic pastures. The artist is fully aware of his seperation from these norms but still manages to appear victorious by owning up to the curious nature of his occupation.
These collages are child like and naive one second yet appear to be expertly put together the other. Materials and dimensions of the work help the immediacy of the narratives at place. It is easy to feel transported right next to McClusky, as if everyone has taken a break and the best thing to do is try and write a letter to those at home, unfortunately there is no other home or a recipient on the other end. Lastly, adding to melancholy of the whole show, is the suitcase found at the flea market. Curiously it is not placed centrally but despite being shut close,bulky and powerful it trembles with vitality as all the drawings are now matted and framed, but the suitcase claims its space silently, scuffs and dents all over it, pointing back to a world weary traveler, who was truly alone.