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Clowns became a recurring subject of Campbell after he met Coco, a character created by the immigrant Latvian Jew Nicolai Poliakoff (1900-1974) in 1961 in Dublin. As a member of the Bertram Mills Circus, Coco the Clown was immensely popular as the troupe traveled throughout the United Kingdom. Following that meeting Campbell painted portraits of himself, his friends, acquaintances, and historical figures he admired such as Beethoven, in the guise of clowns. He said of these figures, “What you think you see is not what you see,” referring to their masked visages and the trope of clown as a tragic muse.
from Snay, The Donald and Marilyn Keough Collection of Irish Art (Notre Dame, 2019)