First published on May 31, 2016, by Jes Hooper
My next collection is titled: Africa.
‘Africa’ will feature the close up faces of African mammals: rhino, elephant, zebra, gorilla, chimpanzees; and small bodied animals: reptiles, and dung beetles. All made entirely from burnt dots. I’m sure I’ll have other ideas too which will see the collection expand, but I have some very specific ideas for these pieces at the moment- so that’s probably enough to set my sights on for now.
I am considering the possibility of using multiple wood mediums within the collection, to select timbers on the needs of each piece and the animal involved. I will also be working on affordable limited edition giclee prints to accompany my pyrograaphy works.
If you’ve read my featured blog post you will know that I spent the majority of my adult life training and practising as an Animal Behaviourist. I have a strong passion for animal ecology, and the way in which animals not only interact with each other but with their environment. During one of my under-graduate degrees, I completed a 2 week study programme with my cohort at Mankwe Nature Reserve in South Africa. It was this trip that inspired me to create a large mammal collection.
Photos taken from my trip to Mankwe, South Africa.
I have wanted to go back to South Africa to study large mammals ever since. The first reason I wanted to do an Africa collection is so I could reconnect with the animals that I saw at Mankwe, and in the neighbouring Pilanesberg National Park. I also wanted to capture the detailed expressive faces of each animal, to create an emotive and inquisitive response to my artwork. I want to engage with my audience, to show these vulnerable yet magnificent animals in a medium that is rare within the art community. How can I make a strong bold statement using burnt wood? Can I capture the depths of an animals skin, the shadows of it’s face, the expressions of it’s eyes, by burning dots into the surface of timber?
As well as my passion for studying animals, I am a strong believer in the need for grass roots conservation, and to promote healthy human-animal relationships. I want to evoke a sense of curiosity that inspires my audience to ask questions. “I wonder what the elephant is feeling behind those expressive eyes?” “what is the history of that animal?”. I want people to really interact with my work, and to ask the most important question: “why are these animals are so rare?”
I’ve expanded my collection ideas to included not only South African mammals, but apes found in different regions of the country. My reasoning behind this is two fold. Firstly, I am a trained primatologist. On my bucket list is to visit the Mountain Gorilla’s in Virunga National Park. Wildlife tourism has saved these majestic animals from near certain extirpation, but it is also not without its risks. One common cold transmitted from a tourist to a gorilla could be catastrophic, as could the over familiarity with humans for an ape historically purged for the illegal trade in animals both living and dead. By wood burning gorillas (and chimpanzees), I hope to connect my audience to apes without taking these risks, and to share my interpretation of their human-like persona. Secondly, I want to create a dialogue between apes and my human audience, to demonstrate through art, the likeness of apes to humans, to show that their needs are so similar to our own.
Ok, so I know what you’re thinking- you get why someone might want to look at an elephant, or an ape, but a dung beetle? Well, the short answer is definitely that dung beetles are just cool. The complete answer, is because their interaction with the environment is one of the most impressive I have encountered to date (which is why they are so cool). To avoid a complete poo-related tangent, you can read up on some interesting facts here. Whilst at Mankwe, I spent three days sat in the African bush, looking at poo deposited by different animals and documenting dung beetle poo-preferences! So yes, there will be wood burnt poo too.
Essentially I am looking to share my view of the animals that inspire me whilst promoting animal conservation. Each completed piece will be accompanied by a blog post dedicated to sharing websites and links to the charities and organisations working hard to conserve these art-worthy animals.
I will build this collection up over time, as these are the most challenging works I have set myself yet.
As an example, the first in the collection, ‘Trunk’ , has been a labour of love for the past two weeks. Each section of the trunk has taken 2 hours to complete, and I am still adding layers of dots as I go. I won’t go into any further detail about this piece as I will wait until it is finished- but here is a first glance of my progress so far.
‘Trunk’. A work in progress. Pointillism pyrography on oak.
One day I will return to South Africa (and hopefully to Mankwe), to study their animals not as a student, but as an artist. I would love to be able to sell my works to raise money for anti poaching efforts, and to teach students the application of animal observation and animal behaviour for art. For now though, I am hoping the sharing of eduction will be the start of something much bigger.
I’ll get there, one burnt dot at a time.
If you would like to follow the progress of Jes’ works, you can follow her on instagram for daily visual updated.