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Canvas the Clown In the Press


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Article 1: Human canvas clown finds her job colorful
By Margo Harakas
Posted May 8 2002

Karen Halperin, motionless on her pedestal, could see the female cop on the sidelines waiting for a break in the crowd. It was obvious the officer was going to shoo away the human canvas.

As the officer approached, Halperin silently extended a brush. The officer extended handcuffs. They mimed back and forth, the officer finally picked up a brush, painted on Halperin, laughed and walked away.

Another disarming performance by the 22-year-old anthropology graduate from Weston who conceived her gig as "Canvas the Clown" on the faulty premise that "people in an urban setting are not willing to make contact with each other."

"I was wrong," she says. Her laundry and paint bills attest to just how wrong she was.

With face painted white and dressed in white canvas overalls, white shirt, white gloves, white hat, white shoes and white stockings, Halperin stations herself on a street or, as she did on Saturday, near the fountain at Riverfront in Fort Lauderdale, silently and subtly beckoning passersby to participate in her performance.

"I thought she was a statue," marvels Michele Dubreus, 12, wide-eyed and grinning.

So did adult Judy Lewis, who spotted Halperin from an upstairs restaurant. "Not till I came down here did I realize she was human," says Lewis, who painted a heart on Halperin's sleeve. "I wanted to paint her face, but she gave me a look like, `Don't go there.'

"She's probably a very peaceful person," notes Lewis, watching the smiling kids crowd around. "She probably loves kids."

Paint is flying now. Great gobs are being slathered on shoes, arms, legs. "Yuck, that must feel so gross," observes one onlooker.

A pack of teenage boys arrives. One steps forward, picks up a brush and traces a circle on Halperin's breast, and then a line down the inside of her thigh. Giggling, he moseys off with his pals.

"I wanna do it again, I wanna do it again, Mommy," pleads 4-year-old Julia Van de Bogart, who paints a rainbow on Halperin's leg.

It doesn't take long for Halperin to be colorized. On her hat, a blue flower blossoms. Stars and initials stream down her arms.

Canvas the Clown is actualizing, losing her whiteness to splotches and dribbles.

Hours later, before washing and bleaching her $22 overalls, Halperin will examine the finished canvas and marvel once again at the human craving for contact and creativity.

"The essence of the act is the interaction. Without people painting on me, there is no show. It forces people to become their own entertainment," says this woman with the open face and poised manner.

On Sunday, less than two years after assuming the role of an organic art collective, Halperin begins a seven-month road tour that will take her across the United States and into Canada. She'll play street corners and festivals and parties, as usual. Hopefully, her tip jar and the handful of sponsors she's soliciting will finance her Paint-a-Mime Tour 2002.

Granted, it's not the work envisioned as she pursued a degree in anthropology at New College of Florida, in Sarasota. But in a sense, the college is to blame. Its emphasis on independent research led to Halperin's thesis on "the social space of street performance."

"I did an ethnography of a community of performers in Boston," she says. Her finding: "Street performance enlivens a city. It creates in a city contact that would not otherwise exist."

Inspired by her own research, Halperin dared to try her hand at street performance.

"I was a very shy child so I never conceived of being a performer. I knew I had to do something that didn't involve speaking. I liked art and I liked silence."

Somehow in Halperin's imagination those two factors converged in the image of a human canvas. She donned canvas overalls, bought children's washable paints, put on a purple wig with braids, and debuted outside an ice cream store in Sarasota. Unsure of what might happen, friends hovered protectively nearby.

"I felt very out of character. I had no clue as to what I was going to do," she admits.

And though, as far as she knew, no one had attempted this type of gig before, she thought there might be some rules, that it might be rude, for instance, to make eye contact with the passing crowd.

"I soon discovered that it's not only OK to look at people, but that they want you to look at them. I started making eye contact and it changed the whole show. It became more human, more interesting. I could walk away with actual memories of people and things that happened."

In fact, if there's anything Halperin has learned it's that "in an urban setting people want to be seen. They say thank you for eye contact and thank you for the invitation to participate."

Though Halperin calls herself a clown, she is not technically clown, mime or statue, though her performance combines elements of all three. Because she'll freeze in a position for several minutes, some folks start painting before they realize their smiling canvas is alive.

Just the unexpectedness of her appearance on a street corner creates an air of excitement. "You can see a heightened sense of presence in the whole surrounding landscape when people are presented with the unexpected," she notes.

Even as she sets up -- draping a white sheet over her pedestal, placing the open jars of paint on the ground -- the curious draw near.

"I'm exploring the lines between life and art," says Halperin. "That's really the theme of the show. You can't tell where the performance starts or the city starts." Or who is performer and who is spectator. "I become the audience of the city and the people who are painting on me."

The most rewarding experience is when a shy child observes, then picks up one of the brushes. When the shy ones realize "I'm not going to ask anything of them, they feel comfortable and they don't want to leave," she says.

Halperin is surprised and pleased at the lack of inappropriate graffiti. "Some people have written nasty things, but the next person who comes along paints over it," she says. "The people protect me."

Each performance results in a totally new and unique "artwork" that Halperin would like to donate to charity for fund-raising. Now, for the most part, she just washes and bleaches the painted overalls and uses them again. (When doing private parties, Halperin becomes a human guest book in which case she leaves the overalls with the host.)

Halperin, who got her bachelor's in 2001, plans to return to school for her master's degree, probably next year, after her tour. (Halperin will chronicle her travels in photos and words on her Web site, www.canvas clown.com.)

She hopes to show that while "most distractions in cities are made by noise and motion, this [her act] is still and silent and just as powerful. The message is, it's OK to be alone, and it's OK to be still."

That's part of it. But as noted on her Web site, the shtick is also about joy and communication and human contact.

"The performance itself is just a vehicle ... The real heart of the mission is to spread a little happiness, laughter and thought. It is to touch people, one by one, and to share a message of peace and humanity."

Margo Harakas can be reached at mharakas@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4728.

Copyright 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/features/lifestyle/sfl-liclown2may08.story?coll=sfla%2Dfeatures%2Dlifestyle (they may have removed the story from their server after a certain amount of time)


Article 2:
Canvas Clown still a big draw
By Margo Harakas
Posted December 29, 2002
 

Karen Halperin, aka Canvas the Clown, took her gig on the road as planned in May.

"It was fantastic," said the 23-year-old street performer from Weston. "I made it up the East Coast through New England, into Montreal and Toronto and then back down into Detroit and the Midwest, Tennessee, Georgia and on home."

Halperin, you'll remember, is the anthropology graduate who, dressed head to toe in white and surrounded with paint jars, silently beckons passers-by to paint on her.

A favorite stopover on her summer journey was Burlington, Vt. "The crowds were good, the people were generous, it was beautiful weather."

Most thrilling was the enthusiastic reaction of the people. Vermonters, it turns out, are wonderfully creative.

"A lot of people took out their pens and began writing poetry on my outfit, or taking found objects and putting them on my overalls."

Halperin had envisioned a seven-month tour, but returned three months early to help work on her dad's political campaign. Republican Alexander "Sandy" Halperin narrowly lost his first bid for the state House, in a race against incumbent Nan Rich in District 97.

While he won't be going to Tallahassee, his daughter will. In January, she'll enter graduate school at Florida State University as a political science major. But she intends in her spare time to continue as a human canvas.

The world of politics and the world of street performance are similar, she's concluded. "They can complement each other nicely."

In fact, she's begun writing a mystery that blends the two.

Meantime, Canvas the Clown is booked for a performance at the World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas in January. The producer became interested in Halperin after reading about her in the Sun-Sentinel. He subsequently caught her act in Weston.

Margo Harakas can be reached at mharakas @sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4728.

 

Copyright 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
http://www.sun-sentinel.com/features/lifestyle/sfl-liclowndec29,0,5002960.story?coll=sfla%2Dfeatures%2Dheadlines

 


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