The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Chimp Haven's Chimpanzee Paintings

It's colorful.

Stylistically unique.

But is it art?

Decide for yourself when "Instinct: The Art of Chimpanzees" opens with a public reception Thursday at the Barnwell Garden and Art Center. The exhibit, which runs through Sept. 20, will showcase the art of local simian talent from Chimp Haven in Keithville.

"I was approached by Chimp Haven with the idea of an exhibit for the chimps and at first I was hesitant, " said Barnwell Center Executive Director Freda Powell.

But after looking at some sample images provided by Chimp Haven, Powell decided it would be a stimulating exhibit for the Barnwell.

"I was impressed by the techniques they used. This is not finger painting," she said, adding, "I don't think they were monkeying around on this."

"If you didn't know which chimp painted which painting you would be able to group them by style; they are that individual," said Dr. Linda Brent, president and director of Chimp Haven.

She also pointed out that what is appealing to humans seems to appeal to chimps: symmetry, color, balance in composition.

"Les is a manic chimp," Erin Loeser, enrichment technician at Chimp Haven, offered as an example. "He only paints with a feather duster, so his paintings are pretty manic."

And then there is a female who was used in cognitive research for most of her life. Loeser describes her as a quiet and thoughtful chimp that prefers not to paint in the center of the page.

Loeser was directly involved with most of the chimps as they painted.

"We don't make them take the brushes and paint," she said, "We bring out different colors of paint and different styles of brushes and they choose."

The workers at Chimp Haven then hold a canvas up to the mesh that surrounds the chimps' enclosure and the chimps apply the paint through the mesh. When asked why this technique is used instead of letting the artists work directly with the canvas, Loeser chuckled. "Sometimes we won't ever get them (the paintings) back."

Not every ape is an artist, though. Some prefer not to paint at all, which means the work on display at the Barnwell features chimpanzees with an artistic disposition.
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"The show gives us the opportunity to encourage people to explore the nature of art," said Powell.

During the opening reception, Bruce Allen, professor of art at Centenary College, will give a talk titled "But, Is It Art?" in an effort to probe that very topic. Brent will address the topic, "Apes, What Could They Possibly Be Thinking?"

Chimp art does have precedent in the world of modern art. In 1964, a previously unknown French painter named Pierre Brassau made waves at an exhibit in Goteborg, Sweden. After he received rave reviews from a local critic and sold a few of his paintings, Brassau was revealed to be an ape. One of the critics who so heavily touted the work stood by his initial praise. Also, in 2005, a collection of paintings by Congo, a chimp studied by anthropologist Desmond Morris — author of the seminal simian text "The Naked Ape" — sold for $26,000 at auction.

The Chimp Haven paintings are colorful and energetic and will be professionally framed and installed in the gallery.

"You will be totally surprised by the beauty of it," Brent said.

From Shreveport, the show will continue to New Orleans on Oct. 3 as part of that city's annual Art For Arts Sake celebration. From there, it will go to other major cities in the United States.

"The tour schedule is still being finalized," Brent said. "We have strong interest from several galleries.
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