First published on June 21st, 2016, by Jes Hooper.
As promised, each newly completed piece within my latest collection will be accompanied by its own blog post. My aim is to involve my audience throughout the progression of this collection, connecting my work with the conservation efforts of the animals that have inspired me.
I wanted to start the collection with an iconic animal that resonated with people. As an emotional animal, the elephant was an obvious species of choice, one I hoped would grab my audiences attention. Elephants have been known to feel emotions as we we do, a trait that I wanted to be evident in the elephants demeanour. Although the subject choice was an emotive one, it was also a practical one. The oak piece I selected has been my favourite for some time, and I had it sat in my studio for two months before starting work on it. I often place pieces I like within my peripheral view, and most commonly I will wake up one day knowing what that piece will be as if my subconscious has worked out the grain for me. It is on that day that work begins.
Completed this week, “Trunk” has taken over 90 hours to complete. As with all my large artworks, “Trunk” has emerged by burning thousands upon thousands of dots freehand into the surface cells of solid waney edged oak. Each dot measures ~0.4mm in diameter, and I have applied between 4-6 layers throughout this 2.5ft high piece, to create depth, texture, and light balance. I worked particularly hard to emphasise the contours of the elephants face and trunk, which I wanted to contrast to the tissue-paper like texture and gravitational movement of the ear.
I chose to create a portrait section of the elephant (the right ear and right hand side of the face and trunk) for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to give focus on the eye to draw in the viewer, but in particular I wanted to work with the oak to enhance the deep textures of the trunk. By doing so, I wanted the audience to ask the question of the elephants personal history, using rough textures and applying old scarring to the trunk which merges with the bark of the oak. I wanted the skin to look as if it feel rough but I wanted the elephant itself to portray a mellow dignity achieved through years of life. A weathered, experienced animal.
I positioned the elephant within the wood in a way which exploited the naturally light colour of the sap, with darker heart wood making up the deep shadows of the face. I also used the long vertical grain patterns to add gentle flowing movement to the ear. I applied negative layers to give the impression of loose folds.
Although I worked from a series of photographs and video footage in the making of “Trunk”, I deliberately made the tusk short. This represents the elephants age and the challenges faced by the species. Recent research has found a positive correlation in tusk size and longevity. IE, the shorter the elephant tusk, the less lucrative a prize for poachers and the less likely of being killed for it. I find it fascinating that poaching pressures have forced evolutionary adaptation in such a way. In a simplified way, I see it as a big two fingers up from the elephant. Although this adaptation will only work for so long if poaching does not cease. The ivory trade continues to bring catastrophic affects on species survival. I include a reference to the ivory trade in my work by use of a notably small tusk combined with an emotionally charged face, precisely because the ivory trade is not emotional. It is not innocent people defending their families from being crushed, or from their crops being raided, it is not to gain a vital food resource. It simply makes no sense to kill an animal, who we know feels as we do, just to obtain a raw material that holds no intrinsic value to anyone but the elephant. As quoted from David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust:
“Every piece of ivory is a haunting memory of a once proud and majestic animal that should have lived; who has loved and been loved, and was once a member of a close knit and loving family akin to our own, but who has suffered and died to yield a tusk for a trinket”.
Unfortunately, the ivory trade and human-elephant conflict (such as crop raiding), are not the only threats to elephants. In parts of Africa, it is currently legal for infants to be captured from the wild andsold into captivity. Only last year Zimbabwe captured 80 baby elephants to sell into captivity in Thailand and China, without releasing what purpose the elephants had there. Asia is well known for its demanding ivory trade, and cruel elephant tourism industry. When entered into the tourism trade, as so many Asian Elephants are, individuals are subjected to cruel training techniques which involve painful and frightening human domination in a process known as “breaking” the elephant into compliance. Such tourist attractions include elephant riding, and elephant painting, but the same practices are also used in animal circuses.
This is the second conservation issue that relates to my work. To persuade people through their emotional connection and intrigue with the work, to avoid elephant attractions, to invest in animal artwork rather than animal entertainment, or to donate some money to animal conservation instead. To do this, I felt that I needed to make an art piece that was not just an artists impression of an animal, but one that’s production intrigued the audience to visually explore it more. I wanted my work to hold the attention of the viewer, as the real animal would. I aimed to create perceived depth and physical texture, on a natural medium that people can relate to more than a blank piece of paper or canvas. I believe that there is more to be learned about elephants from art, photography, and film, than by partaking in experiences that have cruelty at their centre. I hope that I have achieved that to at least some degree here.
“Trunk” has been the most challenging of all my pyrography (and drawing) works to date. I have never drawn an elephant before, and the depth of detail I wanted to achieve required me to adapt my usual techniques and develop new ones. I have also never worked with a more challenging piece of oak. The grain was dense, with numerous weaknesses, causing my burns to bleed and splinter. As one of myinstagram followers pointed out- it’s only suitable that when creating an elephant you have to fight to tame it. I couldn’t agree more.
Should you wish to donate or learn more, I have linked several elephant conservation programs below:
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
“Trunk” is now available to pre-order for £900 with free UK delivery, and will be available online via Jes’ etsy shop on the 1st July 2016.
If you would like to enquire into purchasing any of Jes’ original artworks, or would like to show her work in your gallery, please contact her here.