A new exhibition at Beaux Arts gallery, in London presents works created during covid-19 lockdown by 92-year old Scientist and Zoologist Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape and the last surviving Surrealist.
Best known for his bestselling books The Naked Ape (1967), The Human Zoo, and Manwatching, Desmond Morris is an accomplished artist, as well as a zoologist. Also his TV programmes about animal and human behaviour. Now aged 92, he still continues to work during covid-19 with his recent striking works unveiled in a solo exhibition ‘Desmond Morris in the 21st Century’ at Beaux Arts gallery, in London, until 12th December inspired by surreal life in lockdown. This exuberantly-colourful exhibition of uncanny, imaginary biomorphic forms whirls you into a magical, bizarre world where you can completely forget the day to day problems of working in the NHS.
Desmond Morris explains, “As a surrealist I see my work stemming directly from my unconscious mind, with images growing freely in wild places, not in the ploughed fields of traditional art. A biomorphic head should not be compared with an academic portrait, as a disfigurement. It should be seen as a new head evolving in its own strange habitat, obeying its own composition rules and not subject to logical analysis. As a scientist, I have devoted half a century to studying human body-language and in that role I have analysed every tiny
variation in facial expression. But that plays no part in my art. When I sit down in my studio and take up a brush, I switch off my scientific brain and let my imagination take over. If I paint a biomorphic head, it owes much more to the hundreds of heads that have gone before it, than to any real human head. Each individual work is part of a long evolutionary process that I began in 1944 and which I am still pursuing today in 2020.”
Morris continues, “This is true of the woman’s head in Woman with Cat VIII, and the cat sitting on her shoulder owes its shape to the slow development of a long series of feline images that I began back in 1949.”
Growing up during WWII, Morris is no stranger to adverse conditions. At his teenage home there was a reinforced metal cage under the kitchen table, where he knew to shelter when bombs threatened. This is where he completed his first ever painting.
“Well, I think it was a sort of teenage rebellion in a way, but it was a creative rebellion. I didn’t want to smash windows, but I was pretty angry about the war.”
However, Desmond Morris’ first interest has always been art.
Morris explains, “When I was about 7, I went into the attic and found my grandfather’s microscope. I brought it downstairs set it up on the kitchen table, went outside put some pond water on a saucer and placed it under the microscope. There were all these amazing moving creatures that I couldn’t resist drawing. They inspire me still”
Desmond Morris held his first solo art exhibition in 1948, now at the age of 92 he is still actively painting and writing. He continued to work during covid-19 for his forthcoming solo exhibition at Beaux Arts. Today, most of his paintings are in private collections but he also
has works in public galleries and art museums in England, Scotland, Holland, Italy, Israel and the United States.
He was asked recently to check his archives. He found that he has held 60 solo exhibitions of his paintings and 11 books have been written about his art. He has produced over 3300 paintings over the past 70 years.
All the paintings in the forthcoming exhibition will be illustrated in the Third Catalogue Raisonné of his work that will be published in November 2020.
His scientific studies of animals saw him take a B.Sc degree from Birmingham University in 1951 and a D.Phil from Oxford University in 1954. He then went on to do post-doctoral research at Oxford until, in 1956, he left to take up the post of Head of the TV and Film Unit
at London Zoo. There he began to make TV programmes about animals and, later on, about human behaviour. In 1967 his book The Naked Ape was published and became one of the top 100 best-sellers of all time.
When asked to check his archives recently, he was surprised by the figures. As an academic zoologist, he published 48 scientific papers. When he turned to popular writing, he produced 360 articles in magazines and newspapers. He has written a total of 78 books, and
has been published in 40 different languages. He has presented over 700 television programmes and has given over 470 television interviews.
Desmond Morris at 92 remains terrifyingly lucid, with a fearsome, inquisitive intelligence and a wicked wit. He says it is because he has been using both sides of his brain all his life; the scientific and the artistic. He is a night animal; he works late into the night and sleeps until noon.
He tells the story about a recent conversation with his old friend David Attenborough, when they mused about why they were still alive, and still working in their 90s.
“Why are we still here?” Morris asked him
“I don’t know” Attenborough replied
“Well did you ever do any exercise?” “No”
“Did you ever go to a gymnasium? “No”
“Did you ever eat any health food?” “No”
“Nor did I. So why are we still here?”
“Because,” Attenborough said eventually, “we are fascinated by this planet that we live on. And we are both so fascinated by it that we keep asking questions, and we never stop looking for new answers. And if you have a fascination for this small planet…..it will keep you going.”
Not to be missed.
Desmond Morris in the 21st Century is at Beaux Arts London, 8 Maddox Street, Mayfair, London W1 from 14th October to 12th December 2020, closes 5pm t.020 7493 1155