Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel's Monkeys

I'm a sucker for beautifully designed animal illustrations. These monkeys' bodies are described with great attention to detail, yet with a certain economy of line and shape so the image is sharp. In addition to that, as with many of Jungnickel's illustrations, the animals depicted come alive and exhibit personality.

It seems clear these are zoo monkeys. Even though there is no literal cage, compositionally, they are trapped in a box going round and round, as if pacing, as zoo animals (particularly the more intelligent mammals) tend to do. It is monotonous, but not a torturous monotony, at least for the monkey closer to us. He looks directly at us and smiles as if to say "Hey there."

The monkey in the back is a different story. Her face expresses not only quiet reflection, but deep melancholy. I find myself wondering if this is her typical state of mind, or if something specific occupies her thoughts. I almost feel guilty staring at her, as I sometimes do when I've joined a crowd of people gawking at a mother orangutan nursing her newborn infant, or a grumpy old gorilla with his back turned deliberately to the crowd.

What strangeness, to live a life on display. What a joy for the exhibitionist. What a nightmare for the introvert.

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