Arts·Video

Pockets is an artist...and a monkey. And sales of his paintings help keep his sanctuary afloat

The precocious primate's work has gained international attention — even Jane Goodall has one of his paintings in her home.

The precocious primate's work has gained international attention, even selling a piece to Jane Goodall

Acclaimed illustrator Anita Kunz on working with an unlikely collaborator — Pockets Warhol

1 year ago
2:00
"Some artists I know don't necessarily want to work with a monkey. They don't want to give up that control. But I don't mind that much because I think there's a bigger purpose to it." 2:00

Pockets Warhol, a capuchin monkey, spent the first few years of his life as a pet in British Columbia. When his owner found it too difficult to take care of him, Pockets ended up at Story Book Farm, a primate sanctuary in Southwestern Ontario. He took to his new home and began to bond with Charmaine, a volunteer who spends her weekends taking care of the primates. After seeing the way orangutans used painting as a form of rehabilitation, Charmaine laid out some canvas with a set of paints. Without hesitation, Pockets began creating his very own abstract pieces.

Soon the canvases were piling up — and as the sanctuary began to face financial challenges and eviction, sales of the paintings have helped to keep them afloat.

You can see Pockets's story in the short doc Portrait of Pockets, streaming now on CBC Gem. And in the video above, you'll hear from the monkey's artistic collaborator, acclaimed Canadian illustrator Anita Kunz. 

Kunz collaborates with Pockets by turning over pieces of her work to the monkey, who then adds layers of paint on top of them. "I have to completely let go," says Kunz on the process. "It's a true collaboration in the truest sense of the world. I do what I do, he does what he does, and whatever's going to happen happens."

While some might be wary of letting a monkey paint on top of their work, Kunz finds it to be a rewarding experience. "It's very interesting to see what he actually does with the existing artwork and I think he vastly improves it. Some artists I know don't necessarily want to work with a monkey. They don't want to give up that control. But I don't mind that much because I think there's a bigger purpose to it."

Pockets Warhol painting on the work of his artistic collaborator Anita Kunz (CBC Docs)

With Pockets's work, the question "is this art?" often comes up, but for Kunz the answer is obvious. "Pockets Warhol's work is of course art. I mean, he's really in a zone — that's the zone that most artists want to get into when they're creating. Of course it's art."

To capture Pockets in the zone, the filmmakers behind Portrait of Pockets set up a special transparent box camera rig for him to paint on, resulting in many of the delightful shots in the film. Check out the video below to see how they got these shots and Pockets delightfully painting straight to camera.

Portrait of Pockets: Making the Box

1 year ago
1:12
To capture shots of Pockets painting, the filmmakers behind Portrait of Pockets set up a special transparent box camera rig for pockets to paint on, resulting in many of the delightful shots in the film. 1:12

Stream the full doc now on CBC Gem and follow Pockets online here.

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