This work is recorded in the Maurice Garnier Archives
Le Clown Jojo by French artist Bernard Buffet was executed in 1966, a time during which the artist had achieved great artistic renown in Paris. Buffet's prolific career spanned the majority of the 20th-century. Having studied in Paris from 1943, Buffet had his first solo exhibition in 1947, aged just 19. Enthusiastically supported by French art critic, Pierre Descargues, by the beginning of the 1950s, Buffet had begun to achieve national acclaim, and in 1955 was voted one of the greatest post-war artists in France by the art review Connaissance des Arts. A predominantly figurative artist, Buffet developed a distinctive and unmistakable style depicting highly stylised figures and objects with strong, expressive black lines and flattened, bold colour such as is exemplified in Le Clown Jojo.
Wearing the traditional accoutrements of a stereotypical clown, Jojo gazes with a distinctly melancholic expression that is at odds with the bright colours and lively execution of the work. Buffet first turned to the subject of clowns and the circus in 1955, when he created a series of works that also featured acrobats and trapeze artists. Though a seemingly light-hearted and entertaining subject matter, the flamboyantly attired clowns and acrobats were depicted with a muted colour palette and with the same solemn, melancholic expressions that can be seen in Le Clown Jojo. At the time these works were painted, France was recovering from the devastating effects of the Second World War. Within this context, the figures reflected and expressed the angst and trauma of the period.
Painted just over a decade later, Le Clown Jojo presents a similar juxtaposition: the clown's brightly coloured costume, designed to entertain and amuse an onlooker, contrasts with his vacant, despondent expression. Instead of presenting a comedic extrovert, Buffet has portrayed a vulnerable, introverted image of the clown; his theatrical and cheerful mask is dropped, exposing a more human element to the portrait of the entertainer. The figure of the harlequin or clown enthralled many early 20th-century avant-garde artists, particularly Pablo Picasso. Picasso likewise pictured the harlequin, a character often viewed as the alter ego of the artist himself, with a decidedly introspective, contemplative quality.
Much later in the century, contemporary Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi also contemplated the concept of a figure's mask or external façade in his important Mask series, which he began in 1994. In these paintings, Fanzhi depicted portraits of figures whose facial features were distorted and concealed by white masks with blank and vacant expressions, a comment on the sense of alienation and isolation the artist felt in the rapidly changing society of China in the mid-1990s. Accompanying Le Clown Jojo is an equally sized sheet of free-floating paper on which Buffet has written a note in crayon exclaiming, 'The clown Jojo-he is "one" from the trade and he loves it-he is a "clown", a real one -Thank you- Bravo Jojo!' This message not only distinguishes Le Clown Jojo from other portrayals of clowns in Buffet's oeuvre, but it also adds a sense of endearing individuality and originality to the portrait of the clown. Le Clown Jojo presents not only a key motif in the artist's career, but encapsulates his unique style and distinctive mode of expression.