I just completed a series of three primate paintings. It came as something of a special request by a friend who knows how much I hate monkeys, but asked anyway. Her reasoning was that the picture she sent me was of a young gorilla, and a gorilla is not a monkey. What she didn’t realize, is that I class Chimpanzees with my monkey phobia, and Chimps are not, exactly, monkeys. They are apes, like gorillas.
BUT – because I like a challenge and because I love this friend, I thought *maybe* I could accommodate her idea. And, we are entering my 60th year of life, which is heralded by the Chinese Zodiac sign I was born under: Year of the Monkey.
Yeah, I’m not impressed that God chose to have me born under that sign. I don’t even usually type out that word: monkey. I abhor the creatures. I don’t like to use the word “hate”, but monkeys fall under that word. I *hate* monkeys.
This goes back to a combination of events in my childhood and National Geographic. The first event, of course, was the release of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” to the television world. The flying monkeys were not the worst part of the movie. I hid behind the sofa when they attacked. The trees and the Wizard did me in as well. It goes back to that Highly Sensitive nature of my personality, and a vivid imagination that could make those scenes out in color, even though we did not own a color television until the 1970’s.
The second event was after we moved into the haunted house at 64 East Minor Street. There was a woman who lived across the way who owned a “pet” Spider Monkey. Her name was Jackie. The irony is not lost on me: that is my name, spelled differently. I do not remember the vicious creature’s name, nor do I care. I only know it was vicious, hateful, and dangerous. It occasionally escaped from Jackie’s house and it would climb the power poles and trees and throw things at us children (feces, whatever). We were warned to stay away from it because it would bite.
Jackie, herself, was no help in this matter. She hated children. She hated us. She threatened anyone who might, possibly, conceivably, distantly threaten her precious, precocious monster in a diaper.
And, last, there was the National Geographic, following Jane Goodall around. Did you know how evil chimpanzees can be? They kill and eat their own young. They kill and eat other monkeys. They kill and maim human beings who mistake their intelligence with kindness. Chimps are too closely related to the sociopath human being. I get that Jane Goodall loved them, but not this woman. I despise them.
It is, therefore, very difficult for me to imagine painting a kindly portrait of a primate. Even my friend’s cute baby gorilla picture did little to elicit empathy within my cold heart.
Then someone posted a photo of a stuffed toy based on the tarsier. There are actually a number of tarsiers out there, and they are all tiny little primates that resemble a gremlin from the infamous series of horror spoofs of the 1970’s. They are adorably cute and they eat insects.
I thought: I can do this thing. So I got on the internet and started looking up tarsier. Amazing how many there are, and some are endangered. There’s the spectral tarsier, the Philippines tarsier, and the Madagascar tarsier. Yes, I just linked to the movie, Madagascar.
But all that research led me to the aye-aye. And — oh-my-gosh!! I found several photos that resemble me before my first cup of coffee. “Everyone Knew To Avoid Betty Aye-Aye Until She Had Her Coffee in the Morning” was born.
NOW, I was inspired to work on that gorilla. But gorillas carry another challenge: how to anthropomorphize one without crossing into the blatant stereotype? Yes, they live in Africa. Yes, they can have hair as unruly as my 3-year-old granddaughter. But they really are gentle giants (I learned that from National Geographic and Dian Fossey) and they are extremely intelligent (more National Geo and Public Broadcast Television). Oh – and Scientific American. They might test my anti-ape/monkey phobia, but they do fascinate me…
I’m going to admit that the sketch I drew preceding this painting looked a *lot* like Curious George. Thankfully, the painting did NOT. “Teach Your Gorilla to Love Learning” was born. I consider her a banner child for homeschooling.
But I wasn’t done. there was still the matter of the tarsier to deal with. And the upcoming Chinese New Year.
But I didn’t want my little primate to look like the guy in Madagascar or the gremlins in Gremlins. So – once again, education took the forefront.
“Professor Tom Tarsier” was born.
Don’t anyone dare suggest I paint flying monkeys. The answer is NO. Absolutely NO.