For Exeter-based artist and former national school-boy sportsman Stuart Wright, gorillas loom large. A plush gorilla toy has travelled everywhere with him since he was two years old. And now he has painted a three-dimensional life-size gorilla – in his garage.
The huge gorilla sculpture is part of The Great Gorillas Project, celebrating Paignton Zoo’s 90th birthday, which comes to a climax with the grand charity auction on Wednesday 6th November.
Life-size model gorillas have been sponsored by businesses, painted in original designs by specially-commissioned artists and displayed in public, creating a unique art trail around the English Riviera and Exeter.
Stuart’s Great Gorilla design features the delicately airbrushed faces of a gorilla and tiger. It’s the perfect canvas for him. Stuart: “When I was two years old, my grandparents gave me a plush gorilla toy which I named G'rills. This plush toy has been everywhere with me - holidays, athletic training camps, national sailing competitions, university - and he still keeps me company in my office at home!”
Stuart, who is the Marketing & Business Development Manager for the Family Law Company in Exeter, grew up in Exmouth, attending St Peter’s Preparatory in Lympstone and Exeter School.
He played rugby but also swam (he once raced against a young Liam Tancock), sailed competitively at national level (rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ben Ainslie) and aged 11 ran the 200 metres in his first national championships. Some of his school sprint records still stand.
He ran at national level, played rugby league for his university and went on to trial for the GB bobsleigh and bob skeleton development squads, but suffered a major leg injury at the National Indoor Athletics Championships in 2003. That injury took 12 months to mend, required surgery and helped cut short a promising sporting career.
Throughout all of Stuart’s adventures there was always one fluffy character who was dragged along for the ride. In addition, G’rills has been to Antigua, Barbados, the US, Portugal, France, Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands, Mexico and Wales.
Stuart studied art and design at Loughborough University and then moved on to illustration and then fine art, which is where he started airbrushing. Unusually, he then completed a Masters in Marketing and Business Management.
Stuart submitted his design and was commissioned by sponsors ZooVue, who install and stream live web cams in zoos across the country. His design is called Hope. Why? “Hope is designed to remind us what this project and the work of Paignton Zoo is all about. I want to inspire hope!”
Hope became a landmark on Babbacombe Downs, on the English Riviera, through the summer as part of the free public art trail.
Stuart converted his garage into a spray booth to complete the work. “Because the gorillas were exposed to the elements it was important to make sure that the paint and the protective coats were properly applied. Having dust in the atmosphere when spraying prevents a good bond with the surface and ruins the finish, leaving it vulnerable.
“My usual work space wasn’t big enough for the gorilla so I adapted my garage. I started by creating an enclosed tent using plastic sheeting and rolls of duct tape. This was built inside the garage and then meticulously cleaned to make sure that it was dust free. I use heated fans to keep the space filled with clean air and an extractor to remove the dirty air.”
The Great Gorillas grand charity auction on Wednesday 6th November. For further information go to: www.greatgorillas.org.uk.