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Actor, Painter, Chimpanzee

cheeta.jpg While I was working at the National Gallery in London, the artist in residence was Peter Blake, who became famous to many because of his cover of the Beatles album, Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.As is the custom, the artist mounts an exhibition at the Gallery at the end of his stay. Peter Blake regarded another painter as his partner and collaborator, so he wanted that artist to share equal billing in the exhibition. The stage was set, then, for a historic first.As Britain’s foremost old masters museum, the National Gallery featured this artist, a chimpanzee, in the exhibition entitled Now We Are 64. The introductory wall showed photos of both artists, Peter Blake and Cheetah, with biographies. Indeed, they were both 64 years old, and like Blake, Cheetah had spent much of his life painting, especially after he retired from the movies.But what did the two artists have in common, really, I wondered? While Blake’s paintings showed subjects from pop culture, Cheetah’s were abstract: bold swaths painted for the sheer joy of movement and color. Was Blake deliberately poking a finger in the art critic’s eye? A chimpanzee at the National Gallery, home to the most accomplished masters: Vermeer, Van Eyck, Leonardo, Rembrandt–and now Cheetah? 

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In Memoriam

Brigandi standing

Brigandi Glintenkamp (1991-2007)

To say that Brigandi was a dog (a chow, to be exact) seems to be entirely beside the point. Those of us who love and observe animals closely will understand. Each creature has its own way of being and moving through the world regardless of its species.

Brigandi was a philosopher. He was born in Lancaster, California in the summer of 1991. It is there that he first met my friend Pamela, who had come to visit the breeder and the puppies on offer. For years Pamela had so wanted a chow, but circumstances had conspired against it until that moment. She had read everything she could get her hands on about the breed.

And when she appeared before Brigandi and his siblings, she sat down on the dirty floor, wanting to see what would happen. Brigandi wasted no time, leaping with enthusiasm into her lap. He recognized a kindred spirit: someone who is thoughtful, deliberate, and empathetic to other species.

Pamela took photos of Brigandi’s mom, dad, and siblings, and posted them around his food bowl so he wouldn’t feel too lonely. He soon grew up to be a magnificent and arresting figure who would attract attention wherever he went. Often people would ask if he was a lion. On a typical day in the park, he might have his photo taken 20 times.

He lived a colorful life, including time at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch, where he loved chasing animals larger than himself, like deer. In the 1994 Northridge earthquake, furniture was flying through the air, and Pamela called out to him. During this crazy Wizard of Oz moment, he hurled himself over a flying lamp into her arms. The next day, one of his whiskers turned gray, though he was only three years old.

The Southern California climate was too hot for such a furry creature, and Brigandi shared Pamela’s passion for the climate and culture of London. It was their dream to walk in St James’s Park together, and that dream came true when they moved and became ex pats in that great city.

Since he was a pup he and Pamela had taken a natural approach to his health care, shunning chemicals in favor of acupuncture, homeopathy, and chiropractic treatments. It paid off. Despite advanced age (well beyond life expectancy for a chow) and arthritis, he enjoyed life to the end. Pamela would even take him through the streets of London in a blazing red Radio Flyer wagon, turning heads all the way.

Brigandi in wagon

Brigandi was Pamela’s constant companion, watching out for her with the dignity of the most loyal Palace guard. And in turn, she let him know that she appreciated and loved him without reserve. They “got” one other, and were each enriched by the other.

Brigandi aptly got his name from the stereo photographer Philip Brigandi. A stereo photograph is actually two perspectives on one subject, merged into one image through a stereo viewer. I think this captures the essence of the relationship of Brigandi and his Pamela. With their two perspectives on the world and one another, they showed us the potential we can achieve through the simple power of love.

Pamela and Brigandi

To see more and to add comments for Brigandi’s scrapbook, please visit his tribute video.

See postscript added in March, 2008.