A 37-year-old chimpanzee in America has won a $10,000 art prize for a piece he painted with his tongue.
Brent, a retired laboratory research animal, claimed first place in an online ballot voted for by more than 27,000 people, when the results of the Humane Society of the United States’s Chimpanzee Art Contest were announced yesterday.
The old master’s prize will be presented in the form of a grant to his sanctuary, Chimp Haven in northwest Louisiana.
A spokeswoman said Brent was unavailable to comment on his triumph. “I think he's asleep,” Ashley Gordon said.
A profile of Brent on the Humane Society's website says he has lived at Chimp Haven since 2006, is protective of an older chimp called Grandma at the sanctuary and “loves to laugh and play.” It added: “Brent paints only with his tongue. His unique approach and style, while a little unorthodox, results in beautiful pieces of art.”
There were also prizes of $5,000 and $2,500 for 2nd and 3rd places respectively in the online contest. The larger award was taken by Cheetah, from Save the Chimps in Florida, who was also selected by esteemed primatologist Dr Jane Goodall as the winner of the judged prize category.
Dr Goodall said: “All of the art was beautiful and unique, just like chimpanzees! It was difficult to choose. It’s so important that the public support all of these sanctuaries in their mission to provide exceptional care to chimpanzees, and other primates, who have suffered through so much.”
The organisers said Ripley from the Centre for Great Apes in Florida took third place, but did not provide specific details of the voting tallies because they want “to keep the focus on the positive work of the sanctuaries and not necessarily the 'winner.’”
The sanctuaries care for chimpanzees retired from research, entertainment and the pet trade, and Brent’s Chimp Haven is the national sanctuary for those retired from federal research.
Cathy Willis Spraetz, Chimp Haven's president and CEO, said she picked Brent to represent the sanctuary in the national contest partly because of his unusual method.
While some other chimps use brushes or point to the colours they want on the canvas, Brent’s keepers hold up a canvas to the mesh of his indoor cage for him to smush pre-applied blobs of child-safe tempera paints with his tongue, Ms Spraetz said.
“If we handed the canvas to them where it was on the inside, they might not want to hand it back,” she said. “They might throw it around and step on it.”