Once a commonplace form of entertainment, the sideshows, penny gaffs and fairgrounds of Britain presented the public with an anthropological and aesthetic melting pot of curiosity, fear, glamour and money, which both fueled and accommodated an ever-growing market. An entertainment industry exploiting the population’s appetite for the foreign, weird, exotic, sexually divergent “other” is nothing new and the Fairground and the accompanying cast of outsider figures became an important thread in the fabric of Britain’s burgeoning show-business tradition.
These images, with their bruised, inherently alone, literally marginalized and truncated (by the artist’s composition) physicality force the viewer to once more take on the role of the carnivalistic voyeur, with the artist placing himself in the role of curator of the curiosities. The artist, Butler, asks of us questions about the nature of “show” business, performance, exhibitionism and most pertinently perhaps, the portrait painter’s inherent exploitative intent, as well as the viewer’s conspiratorial enjoyment of his chosen human “oddities”.
While the portraits provide a broad human landscape in which the viewer finds them self face to face with both the real and perceived norms of the human form, Will Burns’ words echo around the visuals to create a multi sensual experience, giving ghostly voice to the imagined “fringe” of people that dwell inside, around, and in front of, the paintings themselves.
Like the sideshows and penny gaffs themselves once did, this exhibition will “roll the roads” this summer, establishing a space within specifically chosen venues and festivals where the work will be on display. This Sideshow will hopefully allow the viewer to immerse themselves in the rich visual and literary world created by Butler and Burns in a way that echoes profoundly with a shared folk past – reminding us of the residual masks, taboos and linguistic relationships that we carry with us still.