As a kid I was fascinated by primates. Fast-forward years later to the first painting I ever attempted. Staring at that blank canvas, I was stumped as to subject matter but quickly landed on the idea of a collage of primates, one of which was a gorilla. As I swiped my brush, loaded with paint, across the brow of the gorilla, I knew was hooked on painting for good and a by-product of that revelation was that I had a new muse. The ‘Danko Gorilla’ has taken on various forms and iterations–continuing to evolve, lockstep with my work. The gorilla has been populated all over the world, through my art, prints, t-shirts and stickers.
2019 to Present
2009 to 2018
Originally created as a stencil while living in Buenos Aires, that was plastered all over the city.
2002 to 2008
Designed over the course of many lunch breaks while working at an advertising agency in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
YEAH, BUT WHY A GORILLA?
The gorilla monogram, now in its third incarnation, is an homage my first painting – a collage of primates. It unexpectedly began my love affair with the medium. At that time it was an intimidating and completely foreign concept, so I avoided taking a required painting class during my early college years. The class was a required part of the curriculum, but even so, I avoided it for as long as I could. Eventually there came a point when I could go no further without that dreaded class, and I soon found myself under the tutelage of Professor Ron Weaver. Poised to begin, I sat in front of that first blank canvas, with Professor Weaver’s only instruction, to paint “whatever we wanted”. I remember thinking, “F#$%…I have no idea how to even paint. Where the hell do I start?”
I finally landed on the idea to paint one of my favorite childhood fascinations – apes. Grabbing a stack of primate books from the library for reference, I roughly sketched a workable composition. Mixing together a handful of colors, I took a deep breath, and began attacking the canvas. The excitement and purpose I felt with those first few strokes remain clear in my mind to this day. The act of gliding my brush, heavy with paint, across the brow of the gorilla activated something profound in me. I didn’t have to think about it. I could just do it. Time seemed to stand still and in that moment that I fell in love with painting.
When I had finally finished it, I was stoked. Though I had no delusions that it was any great work of art, it was during this first attempt that it opened a whole new world of possibilities to me. When painting, the subject matter becomes secondary. The physicality of the motion becomes fragmented and elemental. Reduced to pure form, just colors, next to colors, next to colors. When the accumulation of those blotches build up next to and on top of one another, the vision in my mind slowly begins to take shape and the painting comes to life.
For my first public exhibition, when I got serious about pursuing my art professionally, I wanted a meaningful symbol of me as an artist. Immediately I landed on that first painting and knew it had to be a gorilla helping me tell my story. On the original sticker a slew of words encircled the gorilla: write, begin, travel, destroy, etc. The most meaningful of which were “face your gorilla”’. My personal “gorilla” was that first class in painting, the monkey on my back that I didn’t want to face. That experience taught me that the greatest rewards come from confronting what is most daunting. Making friends with my “gorillas” have yielded untold insights and experiences I would have missed if I gave into my fear. Therefore a gorilla is forever my champion and a symbol, to me, of what is possible. I want to share my gorilla and the joy and magic that awaits all of us when we not only face our gorillas, but invite them along for the ride.