Meet Pockets Warhol, the artist, philanthropist, and monkey who is double-handedly raising money and awareness for Story Book Farm Sanctuary here in Ontario — home to other rescue primates, including Darwin, the IKEA monkey — with his abstract expressionist paintings. Given that the sanctuary is currently trying to raise funds to move locations with their #DarwinsDream Indiegogo campaign, there’s no better time than right now to get acquainted with Pockets Warhol and his art to help out a good cause. Vv Magazine’s Vicki Hogarth — a huge fan and collector of Pockets’ work — spoke to the artist via his muse, Charmaine Quinn (who is one of the most amazing, caring, and beautiful people on the planet in her own right), about life at the sanctuary, his work, and #DarwinsDream.
The next time someone throws the expression “a monkey could do it” in your direction, consider taking it as a compliment. With paintings that sell for close to $400 a piece, 23-year-old capuchin monkey Pockets Warhol is the No. 8 top-selling animal artist in the world. He might take his last name from the famous pop artist, thanks to his wild hair that’s reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s wigs, but Pockets’ avant-garde abstract expressionist paintings are nothing like the Warholian silkscreens of the 20th century. That said, he’s gaining a pop culture following that the original Warhol would approve of. Pockets’ one-of-a-kind, thought-provoking masterpieces have landed him solo art shows in his home-base of Canada, and he also exhibits as far away as Finland, Italy, Estonia, and the Netherlands. Not many human painters can boast that kind of international recognition!
A philanthropist as well as an artist, Pockets uses the sales of his artwork to benefit the sanctuary where he lives, Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary in Sunderland, Ontario (currently looking for funding to move locations with their Indiegogo #DarwinsDream campaign), which is notably also now home to Darwin, the Ikea Monkey. He also puts on exhibits to fund the sanctuary, including last year’s highly-successful collaborative show with Toronto-based artists Scott Cameron (a.k.a. Scotch Camera) and Brent Roe called the “Art Pioneers Exhibit,” which took place at The Gladstone Hotel on Queen West. It goes without saying that the event was bananas, so much so that the three artists are worked together again for this past fall’s Nuit Blanche. After all, critics have been in awe of the way Pockets often starts his paintings in the middle of the canvas, using his hands and tail to paint and often purposely leaving visible hand-prints on the white backdrop. His unique abstract expressionist style is captivating in part because of his interest in colour. Pockets is known for his bold tones, but he’s also made a name for himself thanks to his complete disinterest in certain coloured paints, even when they’re readily available to him in copious amounts.
Though he loves the company of people and other monkeys, Pockets prefers to paint alone, which explains why many of his paintings, from “All the Madness” to “Lost Souls” and “Planet on Fire,” tackle serious issues of the modern era with their abstract beauty. That said, Pockets’ talent would have likely gone undeveloped had it not been for Charmaine Quinn, Pockets’ muse and a volunteer at Story Book Farm. Quinn started bringing Pockets blank canvases and non-toxic children’s paint soon after he arrived at the farm five years ago after living with a family in British Columbia who could no longer take care of him. Selling his work has been a blessing to everyone at the sanctuary, from the resident monkeys like Boo, Sweet Pea, and Cheeko, to the unpaid volunteers like the inspiring Charmaine Quinn, since Story Book Farm relies entirely on donations. The sanctuary needs to move locations, so there’s no better time than now to take interest in Pockets’ work. We caught up with the one and only Pockets Warhol to find out more…
Tell us a bit about yourself. What should people know?
I am a white-headed capuchin monkey and my ancestors come from Central and South America. I was previously a pet to a really nice lady in British Columbia for many years, but we don’t really make good pets because we are wild by nature. I am 23 years young and arrived at the sanctuary five years ago after my human family found it difficult to give me long-term care. I was a little spoiled and had my own television and pet guinea pig when I lived in BC.
How did you get the name Pockets Warhol and how did you discover you had such a talent for painting?
I was called Pockets when I was a baby monkey because I used to sit in the pocket of my caretaker. When I came to Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary, one of my volunteers, Charmaine, spent a lot of time with me and she saw how smart I was and would throw me my favourite toys and entertain me. One day, she was looking at me intently and said to me, “You kind of look like Andy Warhol!” I thought that was really funny and then said to myself, “Yes, I do!” My muse had a background in art and music, so she thought it would be fun to give me children’s paints to play with and then I became “Pockets Warhol.” Because I see colours the way humans do, I started to create and move the paint around with my fingers and tail. My muse chose specific colours that were in Andy Warhol’s work and named each of my paintings after the Warhol originals for my first art show.
You were recently named one of the top 8 animal painters by Maclean’s. That’s very impressive! Who are some of your favourite painters, living or deceased, human or otherwise?
It was a great honour to be rated the number 8 animal artist in the world, and I am in great company with Congo the chimpanzee who was listed as number one. Some of my favourite painters are Warhol, Picasso, Dali, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Kandinsky, Pollock, George McLean, and I love Frida Kahlo because she used lots of monkeys in her paintings!
You have some very deep abstract pieces. Most recently I loved your painting “All the Madness.” Where do you get your inspiration for your artwork?
A lot of my paintings are coming from moments in time or history. My recent painting, “All the Madness,” came to me as I see the instability in the world. I used the black, blue, and red to signify war. I use the bright colours to express my happy feelings.
What makes Story Book Farm such a special place to live and how can people help out?
I was very lucky to have arrived at Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary as many primates have no where to go when people realize they can no longer take care of them. I have lots of really great human caregivers that treat me kindly, give me lots of enrichment, great food, and plenty of love. We do need financial help from the public as we have a long life span and many of us can live over 40 years – which means we need long-term health care. Right now, the humans and monkeys from Story Book Farm are running an Indiegogo campaign called #DarwinsDream to raise money to move to a new location. There are many fun ways to donate, including by buying my #DarwinsDream campaign print!
How can people support you specifically as an artist?
I think people can help support my sanctuary through my unique artwork. All the proceeds go to helping my primate friends and me to live meaningful lives. Every art piece I do is different and each one has a story to tell. I am so happy that many of my paintings are hanging all over the world and bringing people together to laugh and talk and enjoy these works of art.
You’ve already put on some fabulous exhibits as a painter. What are some of the most memorable ones you’ve been a part of?
I have been fortunate to have five art shows in Toronto, two in Finland with one being at the Helsinki Museum, The Museo Apparente in Naples, Italy, Estonia, and Holland. There will be another one in Finland next month. I think they really like me in Finland! I think my favourite art show was with my two favourite human artists, Brent Roe and Scotch Camera. That was the most fun because it was the first time a non-human primate and primate collaborated together on artwork. We did lots of interesting pieces and we are working again for Nuit Blanche in the fall.
What are three things you can’t live without?
The three things I don’t think I can live without are my comfy bed (as I am very fussy about my sleeping arrangements), my toys, and food. So I guess it is safe to say that I am just like humans.
What’s your favourite snack and why?
I do love cashews, but a monkey cannot live on cashews alone, so I eat lots of fruit!
Baths: good or bad?
Uh-oh! Baths. I like playing with water but prefer a sponge bath.
You sometimes have trouble sleeping (I see your posts on Facebook). What sometimes keeps you up at night and how do you overcome insomnia?
I do have trouble sleeping at night and think it is because I am so active and my mind is always working overtime so I have to concentrate on counting the farm animals I see during the day to fall asleep at night.
What are some of your more cherished paintings that you’ve done in your life as a painter?
Some of my favourite paintings have been in the original Warhol does Warhol art show, but some of the ones that have meaning to me are Mount Vesuvius, David Greybeard, Ageless, Road to Berlin, Fairytale, All the Madness, and Portrait of Vicki.
What’s one little-known fact about Pockets Warhol that you would like people to know?
I think the one thing that people don’t know about me is that I am a little shy.
What are some of your favourite things to do in your free time?
In my free time, I like to meditate, do some yoga moves, and tease my neighbour Cheeko by pulling his tail.
Let’s get social for a moment. How can people stay up-to-date with your busy life?
My daily adventures are on my “Pockets Warhol” Facebook and on Twitter, but I am still trying to figure out Instagram! I also have a blog with all my paintings and people can see my primate friends and me on the Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary Facebook page too! And please spread the word about #DarwinsDream Indiegogo campaign!