Sideshow “freaks” and carnival acts may have had their heyday, but artist Shaun Bailey of Sacred Electric in Leeds, England, is ensuring their memory lives on through his traditional flash. Inspired by the snake charmers, sword swallowers, and strong women of yesteryear, Bailey’s art makes us long for the glitz of the show. The exhilarating rush of watching someone breathe fire, or charm a 15-foot snake, edging closer and closer to the brink of death, but never teetering over the edge is thrilling. Come one, come all as we take a closer look at the other Bailey’s greatest show on earth.
The organ grinder cranks the handle as a hushed tone falls over the audience, all of whom are as equally curious as they are nervous as to what horrors or curiosities they might encounter. Bailey’s flash is a fine balance of traditional iconography combined with surreal imagery. Instead of taming the 15-foot snake, his charmer becomes it, their bodies existing in perfect synchronicity. The sharp shooter isn’t just a keen eye and a quick hand, she’s also the gun smoke. Using a combination of muted color and an unparalleled sense of ferocity, Bailey’s “freaks” know no fear, frequently laughing in the face of danger, and at times even becoming the face of danger. If you felt like getting particularly analytical, pretentious stoner-with-an-art degree with it, one could even argue that Bailey’s art poses the question, “is humanity the real underlying threat?”
The time where sideshows reigned supreme has long since passed, but the romance of it all still lingers. Your dreams of running away with the carnies, learning to swallow a sword, or tame a tiger might be nothing more than wistful longing, but you can still keep a bit of the magic with you through Bailey’s art.