The Evolution of a Gorilla
What follows, dear reader, is a strange and cautionary tale. A true story in which we will attempt to examine the inexplicable appeal of the apparently random combination of gorillas and gratuitous profanity.
Our story begins with this drawing, created by my own fair hand on the back of an envelope and glued into a notebook, way back in June 2006. (Obviously you can ignore the poorly rendered fire extinguisher, and concentrate on the image on right hand page.)
Actually I’ve just remembered that, in actual fact our tale truly begins with a scribbled note in an entirely different journal, one which I sadly can’t find right now. The note said something like: “Draw a gorilla with those lines around it that make things look like things are vibrating”. I sometimes make notes like this in a misguided attempt to remind myself of things that I think will be cool to draw. I realize that most other artists would probably just do a skillful but lightening fast sketch to be referred to and improved upon later, but I write words instead. It’s what I do– judge me if you want. More often than not I’ll immediately forget about these scribbled notes and that’ll be the end of the matter, but for some reason in this case I didn’t. I actually drew the gorilla, complete with the ‘vibrating lines’ which proved to be unsatisfactory, and then I added the non sequitur you see above. I have no idea where that phrase actually came from. It simply plopped into my head after I had drawn the gorilla, and then scribbled colored pencil around it in an attempt to assuage the disappointment I felt when the whole ‘vibrating lines’ thing failed to live up to my hopes and dreams. Eventually I posted the above image to my Flickr page and found the response was both immediate, and alarmingly positive. I even got a request to purchase the drawing, (presumably be ripped out of the notebook in which it resided). In the end I actually created another version and sold that one. What was interesting though, was the way people responded- the enjoyment this apparently random concoction of words and images gave to otherwise rational people.
A little less than a year later I was preparing for a solo show at a gallery in San Francisco and decided to turn the notebook image into the small mixed media on canvas painting you see below.
As soon as the show went up the gorilla sold immediately and at the opening several people told me they wished that they had bought it, and asked me to let hem know if I ever created another version, or made a print of the same subject. The print thing eventually happened, after a fashion, when I posted it to my Society 6 page in 2010, and made it available in a variety of formats. And while I wasn’t exactly able to retire on the proceeds it did sell pretty well.
After I joined the Compound Gallery & Studios in 2012 I started to make my own letterpress prints in small editions and, of course, I inevitably thought of the Fucking Gorilla. I did another version of the drawing and had a photopolymer plate made up, and the result was a series of letterpress prints that look a lot like this…
Once again the unique combination of ape and vulgarity proved popular, with prints being dispatched as far afield as Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, as well as several US destinations.
But our tale doesn’t end here. No. In fact it just get more bizarre. Because at around this same time I received an unsolicited email from a perviously unknown Canadian named Tia McGregor, informing me that she had written and staged a play based on the gorilla piece. The title of the play was, not surprisingly, “You And That Fucking Gorilla”, and it had its debut at Victoria University in Victoria, British Columbia. Although I sadly didn’t get to witness a performance I did read the script and, I have to tell you, to my untrained eye it was pretty damn good. I realize that this all sounds highly unlikely, so as irrefutable evidence that I’m not just making stuff up, here are a couple of shots of the production, complete with gorilla, who appears to meet a tragic end.
So there we have it– the evolution of Gratuitous Simian Profanity from scribbled note to stage production. None of which actually helps us understand the appeal of this particular combination of words and pictures. Perhaps the whole thing was best summed up by a visitor to The Compound who purchased one of the gorilla prints. She revealed that she was actually a gorilla researcher who spends her days working with the beasts, and one of her friends had emailed her the image, presumably because she shared the sentiment expressed. Her pertinent observation was “why would anyone else appreciate this?”.