Hair Salon

A four-frame vertical comic strip forms a bridge between two side panels, each of which is comprised of twelve small tableaux featuring terrible scenes connected...

Willem van Genk, Kapsalon, Outsider Art Museum

A four-frame vertical comic strip forms a bridge between two side panels, each of which is comprised of twelve small tableaux featuring terrible scenes connected with books whose covers are painted, too, to identify each incident. Dogs are hanged, a head tumbles from the guillotine, gramophone records are smashed, and the Rosenbergs are executed as communist spies. How to Build Your Own Guillotine by Edmund V. Gillon, Jr. accompanies the grim façade of a gaol (‘Hotel Prison’) with coils of barbed wire along the roof’s edge. Behind a cordon of raised bayonets, the execution takes place of the German doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee, who had an affair with the Queen of Denmark. These are blood-curdling images portraying the cruellest aspects of humanity.

The strip story in the middle seems at first sight comparatively inoffensive. The scenes in a hairdressing salon exude a measure of calm. In the topmost frame, a woman is having her hair washed. In the second, another woman is treated to a foaming shampoo while another customer enters wearing a shiny dark-green dress. A glossy hairstyling cape hangs from the coat rack, as in the other scenes in this story. Van Genk adds two further frothing heads in the right-hand section of the painting, one of which has to make do with two kitchen taps.

One of the tableaux in the left-hand section shows us a scene where three gentlemen and a lady stand before a hotel. The woman announces in a speech bubble, ‘I would like to get my hair washed!’ ‘Feeble-minded Fascist!’ the man behind her retorts. The man in a blue coat just looks at the woman, and in the next frame he trails meekly behind her. ‘The bullet… Dirty Foamer’ shines in cold letters above her head. Maybe the neon sign’s words reverberated in Van Genk’s mind when he recalled the reactions to his behaviour in the vicinity of hairdresser’s salons. Seeing a woman’s hair drenched in foaming shampoo was his greatest pleasure, and pleasure has its dark side, as he well knew. It messes you up. Contradictory messages ringing through his head, some saying he mustn’t, others telling him it was OK, his body in an untenable state all the while. The words ‘Haat in huis’ (‘Hate at home’) summed up his feelings; even that which seems innocent may contain danger-filled depths. Murderous intentions, revenge, molestation and martyrdom fit seamlessly in the context of the irresistible attraction these white-frothed heads exert on him.