Nothing Subversive About Gorilla Art

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Joe, a gorilla, painted this untitled work. (Click to enlarge.)
By Joe (Click to enlarge.)
Okie, a gorilla, painted this untitled work.
By Okie (Click to enlarge.)

Guerrilla art may stir controversy, but gorilla art inspires awe. We trekked over to the Franklin Park Zoo's Tropical Forest to meet some very creative apes.

Zookeeper Brandi Baitchman encourages the artistic sensibilities of male gorillas Okie and Joe, who might give famed naive painter Henri Rousseau a run for his money with their wilderness-inspired watercolors. Baitchman says it wasn't hard to get the gorillas painting.

"I basically took a piece of paper and put paint on it and slid it under the bars with them and originally they just ate the paper, ate the paint, which isn't a big deal. We use non-toxic paper."

Baitchman then put a laser pointer on the paper and the gorillas would paint the target.  Then the gorillas got a treat.  Now that laser pointer is no longer necessary. But not all gorillas are equally talented.

"Okie, that gentlemen over there with the big brows, he's the best painter here. He really messes around with it, he gives it back to you, you can give it back to him. He's funny. When he's done he's covered in paint. He has purple knuckles, purple chest."

Joe, on the other hand — well, he's more the sensitive artist type. Joe will dip one finger into the paint, and then quickly try to wash it off. Maybe sculpture or performance art is more his thing. Some of the other gorillas like to eat their creations. Those that survive are auctioned off to raise money for the Zoo Conservation Fund.

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This program aired on July 6, 2010.


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