Cartoon Madness IV: Circus presents three-ring art show (1)

Evil clowns famously fuel kiddie nightmares, just as sad clown paintings on black velvet inevitably trouble the dreams of art critics.

Alcove Gallery owner H.C. Warner genuinely loves the greasepaint and sawdust, however, and the word “trapeze” even figures in his e-mail address. For his birthday every February, the Decatur-based artist goes to the circus. “The circus usually comes through town in February, and I’m big on celebrating my birthday. I’m big on looking through the innocent eyes of a child. At the circus, you’re back, eating popcorn and cotton candy, and you kind of let go of your worries.”

Warner doesn’t really care about nouveau spectaculars like Cirque du Soleil. He’s more of a Barnum & Bailey purist who prefers the traditional three-ring presentation, from animal acts to sideshow performers. “If we have a fire-breather, we have to have a guy on stilts. It’s like a good casserole — it has to have all the ingredients.” He doesn’t play favorites, but admits, “I do like the elephants.”

A disappointing recent experience under the big top inspired Alcove Gallery’s Cartoon Madness IV: Circus. It’s Alcove’s fourth annual show in a series that emphasizes local artists, frequently ones who work with Atlanta’s Cartoon Network, and who take on subjects that provoke childhood flashbacks. “I had a sour taste in my mouth from the last time I went to the circus. I knew the PETA animal rights thing caused the circus to flatten out a bit, and there should be no abuse of any animal or human. But even down to the clowns, the circus has gotten very formatted and generic. What happened? It just wasn’t the same. So I thought of putting on our own circus.

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