What really struck me about ‘Johnny Patterson singing Bridget Donoghue’ is that it is so far removed from the aesthetic of the rest of the exhibition, Painted Universe. The other paintings seem pretty conventional in comparison and when I saw this I was really thrilled. The desperate violence of the face reminded me of The Scream by Edvard Munch, but also of the photographic series of monstrous clowns by Cindy Sherman. It is a face falling apart in horror. Then you look at the title and see, ‘Johnny Patterson singing Red O’ Donohue’.
When you think of a singing clown, it sounds kind of nice you know. A clown is a kind of a children’s entertainer. But then you examine this painting and that concept completely flips. I found it fascinating how he treats the paint. I think that it ventures so far from his usual style, the way that he is using the brush and really going into the paint by stirring it. Also, you have to examine the way he uses colour. Particularly yellow, which is one of the brightest, sunniest colours that you can imagine. But here, Yeats’ is mixing it with all these dark colors until it becomes contaminated. Transforming it into a dirty yellow, that, in the context of this painting, is utterly sad. It shows a remarkable depth of despair.
When I was researching this painting, I came across a text by Roisin Kennedy on The Model’s website. The text stated that the painting was inspired by Yeats’ first memory of seeing the clown perform but he was also reflecting on the role of the artist, which made complete sense to me. The clown is standing before an audience, trying to entertain them and I think that is a great image. In that sense Yeats’ painting could be read as a distorted, absurd and ironic representation of exhibiting art and being an artist.