I am still slowly working my way through The Wisdom of Donkeys, Andy Merrifield’s obsessive philosophical monograph about the mindfulness of equus asinus. Years ago, when writing my MA dissertation at the Central School of Art and Design, I was immersed in every aspect of foolishness, while exploring the place of the irrational and the purely intuitive in the design process. On the day of the awards, my tutor told me the awards panel had great difficulty deciding what to do with my dissertation: they would either fail me or give me a distinction. In the end, they gave me a distinction.
It was while engaged in that postgraduate work, nearly thirty years ago, that I first read the story of the donkey Lolo at the Lapin Agile in Montmartre. Andy Merrifield’s book has revived my interest in this wonderful episode.
This is not only a painting made by a donkey, but it became a sensation in Paris as art critics argued the merits of ‘Excessivism’ – the apparent new art movement advocated by the artist Boronali (the donkey Lolo with a paintbrush attached to his tail).
The moment was captured on camera. ‘Boronali’ was driven in his artistic inspration by various vegetables held before his nose, producing a corresponding excess of manic tail swishing which eventually produced the main ‘statement’ of Excessivism: Sunset on the Adriatic Sea.
Spot the celebrity masked artists: Picasso is right there among them! This took place at the Lapin Agile cabaret bar, where Lolo was a regular performer, braying to guitar music. It is just a century ago, two world wars ago, several recessions back; and doesn’t it seem like an age of innocence?
But don’t ask me, I’m just a Lapin Agile, preparing a home for artistic donkeys.
Postscript: I have just discovered another photo of Lolo, pictured with Frede the owner of the Lapin Agile. Apparently, the donkey’s main claim to fame was its flatulence. I am trying to find out more about this, if only to clear the air.