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The Circus of Life

Taken from ‘Aotea Centre Works of Art’, edited by Tara Werner, written by Karen Scherer and Katherine Findlay.

‘The Circus of Life’ was created by Jenny Dolezel as part of a group of works commissioned in 1988 for Aotea Centre. ‘The Circus of Life’ hangs on the wall adjacent to Door F of the ASB Theatre on level 3 of Aotea Centre.

This lively, colourful oil painting is Jenny Dolezel's first major public commission. It is approximately 5 x 9 metres and took six months to complete.

Jenny Dolezel:

I have chosen to directly represent a complex performance scene being observed by an audience, but in fact the work as a whole served to symbolise the theatre of real life.

The multi-panelled painting is made up of two sections. On the left a show is taking place, while the side panel on the right acts as a “behind the scenes” section. This smaller section includes various crucial elements that go into the making of a successful performance – both in life and on the stage – such as choosing the right role, auditioning, practising, having the correct costumes, make-up, discovering deception, trouble, pretence, false masks, background scenery, lighting, and so on. These are portrayed through a series of small semi-independent scenes, arranged more or less in chronological order. On close observation it is apparent that the audience contains several performers, identified by their gestures, looks, costumes and use of masks. The performer and the audience are merged.

The work also comments on the drama of life. The pressures of performance – the countdown, reading of scripts, and deadlines – also apply to our lives. Dolezel believes we live in a bizarre world where things are never what they seem. A nose turns into a flute, a snake slithers out of an exit sign, and candles on the birthday cake may just set the curtains on fire.

In the far right of the painting, the artist looks on and into her creation in a symbolic self portrait.