On this day of nationwide Thanksgiving we laze back, bellies full, amongst relatives relating and paraders parading, footballers...well...anyway, and consider all the mundane things we have to be thankful for. I'm thankful for hearth and home, friends and family, the State Teacher's Retirement System, Christmas Club Accounts, and all those people who are nearly impossible to buy gifts for, who therefore are likely candidates to receive portraits for Christmas. I'm also thankful for the fact that I'm a realist painter. Why? Well, because my livelihood will never be threatened by elephants. All right, all together now, (blink, blink, reread). That's right. If I were a painter in the Abstract Expressionist mode, I'd be worried. Elephant art is poised to take over that corner of the art world. Brought to you buy Komar and Melamid, the same guys who did a survey and figured out banal art is IN (duh), they've now taken up the cause for animal rights in the art world.
It all began in 1995 when Russian art immigrants Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid added a third member to creative partnership. Her name was Renee Pachyderm, a sixteen-year-old from Africa. Like her human counterparts, Renee was no newcomer to art. She'd been painting with the help of her trainer at the Toledo, Ohio, zoo for over ten years. That summer, the three of them forged a new link in the evolutionary chain with their interspecies artistic collaboration. But the real story of Pachydermal art is not in Toledo but in Thailand where the unemployment rate amongst elephants was approaching 100%, leaving them to roam the streets of Bangkok, tin cups in trunks begging and sometimes bashing tourists and the local populace for food. Komar and Melamid, being the international sorts they are, took their tongue-in-cheek art project overseas where there was a real need to retrain this outmoded workforce into some form of productive enterprise. I'm not kidding here, folks, today there are THREE regional elephant art academies operating in rural areas of Thailand where elephants and their mahouts (trainers) work together to learn how to paint.
This is serious business. There are even art critics who study their work. They've found, for instance, that no two elephants paint alike, and that those elephants from the northern regions (the Lampang School) paint quite lyrically, expressing their art with broken brushwork and curvilinear forms, preferring bold, primary colors. The Ayutthaya School elephants prefer darker, cooler colors like deep violet, black, and forest green, applied with broad, vigorous, sweeping brushstrokes across the canvas from edge to edge. In the South, members of the Phuket School move toward saturated tertiary colors such as mustard, plum, and magenta, using gentle, curving strokes. Last year, they made their big gallery debut at the Bangkok Hilton where their work brought over $50,000 at auction to benefit impoverished Thai villages. Komar and Melamid plan to open new academies in India and Indonesia. In the meantime they're lecturing regarding their project at the Getty Research Center in Los Angeles. And photographers, lest you think your bailiwick is safe, Kohmar and Melamid have been handing out Polaroid cameras to chimpanzees, and worse, these animals are beginning to relate the use of the camera with its instant feedback to what they shoot. I guess I'm thankful I'm not a photographer too.