Volume I, Number 6, Spring/Summer 2006

 

© Copyright 2005

 

Gorillas as Artists

Koko

[monkeywire] Gorilla art show opens in Florida

St. Petersburg Times-November 8, 2002 Friday
PAINTING THE TOWN:
Palette of the Apes
SUSAN THURSTON

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Michael - Handprint . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . .. . . .Koko - Pink.

VIRGINIA PARK - They consider Koko the playful, gregarious one who doesn't like to get paint on her fingers.
They describe Michael, now deceased, as the gifted, sensitive one, whose paintings have earned praise among art lovers.

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Michael . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Koko

. . Both have used canvas to express their emotions and interpret their surroundings. Not bad for hairy, lowland gorillas. Nine of their limited edition prints go on display today at the Gold Dragon Gallery on Manhattan Avenue, which specializes in the work of local artists. Proceeds will benefit the Gorilla Foundation, dedicated to protecting the world's largest apes.
. . The exhibit marks the first in Florida and one of the few nationwide. Based in California, the foundation introduced the gorillas' artwork a few years ago to show the intelligent and emotional side of the often feared, chest-banging beasts.

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.. . . . .Michael - Stink. . . .. . .. . . . . . . ... ..... . . . . . . . . ... . . .Michael - Myself. . . . . ... ..

. . "The more people are educated about gorillas as amazing beings, the more important it is to preserve them," said Jenifer Patterson, the foundation's marketing director. "They are our cousins."
. . The nine paintings were created by Koko and Michael in the 1980s and early '90s. Some in the art world have compared Michael to American abstract painter Jackson Pollock, Patterson said.

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Michael - Dinosaur . . . .. . .. . . . . ..... . . . . . . . . . .Koko - Love. .

. . The artwork was inspired by objects familiar to the gorillas, from Michael's toy dinosaur to a red bell pepper. There's one of Michael's dog, Apple, and another of Koko's favorite bluebird. Both resemble the real things, right down to the colors.

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Michael - Smile. . . .. . .. . . . . ..... . . . .. . . . . . .. .. . . . . .Michael - Untitled

. . "It's very deliberate," Patterson said. "To me, it's modern art. Expressionism."
Sometimes, the gorillas would paint from a model. Other times they would draw from their imaginations, she said. Human helpers set them up with a canvas, palette of paint and brushes but left it to the apes to create as inspired.
. . Not only do they draw, the gorillas communicate through sign language and understand some English. When Koko drew a pink heart, she used sign language to call it "love." Michael named his painting of a bouquet of flowers, Stink Pink More.

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Michael - Earthquake . . . .. . .. . . . . ..... . . . . . . . . . .Koko - Earthquake.

. . In the past 25 years, Koko has mastered a vocabulary of more than 1,000 words, says Penny Patterson, foundation president and sister of the marketing director. Michael, who died of a heart attack in 2000, knew more than 600 signs.

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. .. . .. . Michael - Penny . . . .. . .. . . . . .... . .. . . . ... . . .Michael - Tree Lettuce .... .

. . By communicating through hand gestures, researchers hope to learn more about gorillas and how to save them from extinction. The gorilla population in Africa dwindles every year because of habitat destruction and poaching for meat. Only about 600 mountain gorillas - the rarest type - live in the wild.
. . "It's a race now," Jenifer Patterson said. "Can we educate people and stop this before they are gone?"
. . Owners of the Gold Dragon Gallery decided to host the exhibit after learning more about the gorillas and their plight. Co-owner Larry Schoonover said he got hooked watching a video of them "talking" with humans and cuddling with a kitten.

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Michael - Love . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . ..... . . . . . . . . . .Koko - Bird.

. . "These gorillas have a wonderful sense of humor. They are capable of lying, being embarrassed or shy," said Schoonover, a retired Navy diver and longtime wildlife supporter.
. . Money raised from the artwork will go to the foundation, established in 1976. Each limited edition print sells for $150 to $300, unframed. T-shirts with the gorillas' art cost about $20.

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Michael - Pumpkin . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . .... . . . . . . . . . .Michael - Untitled.

. . Foundation officials said sales will help create a 70-acre gorilla preserve on the mountainous Hawaiian island of Maui. A supporter donated the land, but the group needs about $3-million to build research facilities and eventually an off-site visitor center in nearby Lahaina.

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Michael - Anger . . . .. . .. . . . . .. . ..... . . . . . . . . . .Koko - Fire Fan. .

. . Researchers hope the jungle environment makes the gorillas feel more at home.
. . At age 31, Koko is running out of time to reproduce. It never happened with Michael because she loved him like a brother, her keepers said. Subsequent suitors didn't light her fire.

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.. ... .Michael - Pepper. . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . .... . .. .. .. . . .Michael - Bird. . .. . .

. . Schoonover and gallery co-owner Billie Cox-Glimpse plan to make the gorilla art exhibit an annual event. At tonight's reception, they will pass out literature about the foundation and show a 12-minute video of the gorillas in action.

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..Michael - Apple Chase. . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . .Koko - Hate.. . . .

. . The public is invited.
. . "We want to make people aware that their closest living primate relatives are being slaughtered every day," Schoonover said.
. . Ape artwork won't be the only allure. The exhibit also features items from Tampa-area artists Daniel Dew, Richard Stewart and Marc Sonenberg.
. . Dew makes colored prints from carved wood blocks. Stewart creates computer-enhanced nature photographs. Sonenberg works in ceramics.They leave the painting to the gorillas.

About the artists:


Michael

BORN: March 1973 in Cameroon, Africa
DIED: April 19, 2000
FAMILY: Killed by poachers
HEIGHT: 6 feet
WEIGHT: 450 pounds
FAVORITE COLOR: Yellow
FAVORITE FOODS: Nuts, apples, peanut butter sandwiches
FAVORITE TV SHOWS: Sesame Street and Mister Rogers
FAVORITE TOY: Construction pipes
FAVORITE MUSIC: Opera sung by Luciano Pavarotti

Koko

BORN: July 4, 1971, at the San Francisco Zoo
HEIGHT: 5 feet 1
WEIGHT: 280 pounds
FAVORITE COLOR: Red
FAVORITE FOOD: Nuts, gourmet tofu dishes, apples, corn on the cob
FAVORITE TV SHOW: Wild Kingdom
FAVORITE MOVIE: Free Willy
FAVORITE TOY: Rubber alligator
FAVORITE BOOK: The Three Little Kittens

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