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Simian Summit: High Primate Coalition

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A piece from the Simian Summit show

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Artist and photographer Steve Withington's work focuses almost exclusively on primates, either as the subjects of expressionistic portraits or as the imagined heroes of a treetop socialist society. His new exhibition of paintings and graphics runs from 3 May to 3 June upstairs at The Rutland Arms. We asked him about his work - and what the deal is with the monkeys.

Tell us a bit about the exhibition, Simian Summit.

Simian Summit is the long-awaited sequel to the Simian City exhibition way back in 2011. On display will be several new paintings and a series of graphic prints. The graphics draw on monkey imagery from my paintings combined with a bombastic constructivist propaganda style.

The High Primate Coalition is an expression of rebellion

The message of the High Primate Coalition is more important than ever in today's uncertain world. Climb the stairs to the function room of The Rutland Arms and reach the Simian Summit.

Why are you so interested in monkeys - or primates, to be more precise - in your work?

At the dawn of the new millennium I started painting monkeys. What began as a chemically-induced obsession has continued to evolve over many years. I think I am drawn to monkeys by their anarchic nature. They are closer to us than many would care to accept.

From the creepiest little monkeys to the great apes, they mock us and mirror us. They symbolise rebellion. They shine a light on the absurdity of human arrogance. We are, after all, just monkeys with nukes and delusions of grandeur.

I see a few different styles in your work, particularly propaganda and political posters. What's inspired your work most?

I paint energetically and expressively, trying to capture monkey essence with freedom and fluidity. I then process these paintings into simplified digital images which become the basis for propaganda prints from an imagined realm of revolutionary apes.

I am open to many ideas, but am most heavily influenced by the constructivist artwork of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and others, bold optimistic visions of a better world. The High Primate Coalition is an expression of rebellion. It feels safe to monkey around, to rebel wordlessly and ambiguously in the nourishing warmth of a dark cerebral jungle, where those of us who never left the trees still dwell.

Sam Gregory

Simian Summit runs from 3 May to 3 June upstairs at The Rutland Arms.

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The show runs from 3 May to 3 June upstairs at The Rutland Arms

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