Allison Schulnik
Performance (for James Ensor)
Oil on canvas, 2006
96 x 136 inches
Museum purchase with funds from the Mark and Hilarie Moore Family Trust

Allison Schulnik’s work combines elements of animation, dance, performance, painting, and sculpture. They all come together in the painted mashup Performance (for James Ensor). The artist, a former dancer, punctuates periods of studio painting with periods of filmmaking, or vice versa, because for Schulnik they are indistinguishable creative activities. For instance, the figures in her claymation films also inhabit her paintings and engage in similar activities.

Performance (for James Ensor) is a parade of dancing hooded figures that exemplify Schulnik’s sympathy, identification, and fascination for the downtrodden and the grotesque–outcasts that occupy the fringe of culture. The painting is in homage to the Belgian painter James Ensor who, in his late 19th-century macabre paintings, also addressed the underclass in a similarly expressive, painterly style. According to the artist, Ensor’s The Fight (1896) inspired the painting. Schulnik imbues the grotesqueness and otherworldliness of her characters with sweet melancholy, believing that within imperfection lies beauty and nobility–qualities that are more real to the human spirit than the cosmetically and technologically altered consumer culture that we live in.

Like a funerary dance, Performance (for James Ensor) is also expressive of birth and renewal. It is about the process of becoming something else—a celebration of the escape from this world and the transition to another, less perfect, more beautiful and alien one.


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