By on March 1st, 2013


After two posts devoted to images of elephants we should now look at the ghastly fate of African elephants living today — but I can’t bring myself to give you a full report.  So this post will mirror the teeter-totter balances of our moral lives.   A look at some brutal facts and then a screeching of brakes and a hairpin turn up a very different street: contemporary design.  All will be justified before the end.  Skip ahead if you need to.

Hard facts

Photo of elephant matriarch Qumquat and her family, taken by Nick Brandt      via Big Life Foundation

This photo was taken on October 27, 2012.  Twenty-four hours later Qumquat and her family were gunned down.  For ivory.

When the rangers found the carcasses, Qumquat’s youngest calf, only ten months old, was also there, watching over his mother’s carcass. The calf, traumatized at having watched its mother shot and butchered, had stood vigil all night alone.                   via Big Life Foundation

The calf was rescued and taken to the Sheldrick Orphan’s Project sanctuary where young elephants and rhinos get sheltered and loved.
Also in 2012 this headline appeared in the Telegraph: Rhinos under 24-hour armed guard.  Dateline is less than two months before the slaughter depicted above.  It’s written by Jessamy Calkin — I recommend her to you.  The article is informed and deep.
The Big Life site also describes the crack of a heavy rifle, designed specially to kill elephants.  Who designs these guns?  Who manufactures them?  The world’s spotlights should shine a while on them.
You need no more stories.
If you are moved to donate to an organization, please do.  I can tell you that I personally support the Big Life Foundation for this reason:  I saw founder Nick Brandt’s photography show last year, On This Earth, a Shadow Falls.  His vision, once seen, must be believed.  There are an appalling number of organizations working to save African elephants and other mighty beasts.  And Big Life Foundation doesn’t yet seem to have a charitable-donations rating (are your dollars well used?) — but National Geographic included them in the show Battle for the Elephants.  They’re no dummies.


Delirious Design

Lamp by Atelier Van Lieshout       via DeTnk

Kitchen Folding Table by Olga Kalugina

blue + white porcelain by unknown artist

Porcelain object by Harumi Nakashima     via Boston Museum of Fine Arts

note to the MFA: If you use an artist’s work in promo please give them credit in that promo

 Wallpaper elephant by WallFlower         via WallFlower

Balloon Pillow soft sculptures by Yayoi Kusama       via lammfrommstore

Arty/fancy pillows cost $150 and more.  These are Kusamas.

Walrus Chair by Maximo Riera         via his website

Riera’s work also mentioned in this post

Shoe by Julian Hakes          via his website

In this section we looked at some out-there designs.   Elegant, poignant, witty, possibly daft.  Because.  Because Qumquat lived in our world but she had no notion of us.  And we lived in Qumquat’s world and we now live with knowledge of her.  Our worlds, our psyches, such a juggled jumble of knowns.  I can’t believe that artwork or designed goods aren’t as worthy of our attention as the plight of elephants.  This sounds vile but hear me out.  We can’t expend our consciousness exclusively on what’s wrong, wretched, unjust, inhuman.  We’re idiots if we think we must stay Serious.  Life is too complex.  We revel in the products of lively imaginations because we seek balance in an ever-tilting world.

Well, those shoes may kill your feet but I wore high heels back in the day and I plumb loved feeling sexy in them.

Hold Qumquat and Horton in your heart.


look further:

Nick Brandt

David Sheldrick

New York Times 

National Geographic



By on February 28th, 2013


In this blogpost and the last we look at the lively presence of elephants in artwork — in lands where elephants have never roamed.  You probably know the tale of the five blind men and the elephant — they each feel the giant beast and conclude that an elephant is a rope, no, a pillar, no….   So too each artist must show us a new elephant.  Here are the elephants some artists saw.

Artist unknown, possibly English or French, from the last quarter of the 12th Century.     Detail taken from this manuscript: Sloane 1975 f.81v Elephant AndDog      via WikiCommons

Detail from Immortal and Elephant, hardstone, 19th or 20th Century     via xupes

Look how anatomically fanciful these two images are.  The first is from 12th Century Europe — the second, most wonderfully, is from modern China.  Nostrils way up there under the eyes?  Cloven hooves?  What original carving does this want to imitate?


Elephants first arrived in Japan in the 1640s and made their way into folk legend and artwork.

Female Elephant from Central India by Ikkosai Yoshimori (1830-1884)    via Harvard Art Museums

24 Paragons of Filial Piety: Taishun and the Elephants by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797 – 1862)       via Toshidama Japanese Prints

Very few artists have successfully represented the elephant and because of the sheer size of the animal, the great difficulty in transporting it, and before the advent of public zoos in the nineteenth century, very few people had direct access to them. The elephant has fared badly in the history of art; in Japan where the elephant assumed great importance in the adopted religion of Buddhism, the elephant was only briefly seen in the flesh until only a hundred or so years ago.        via Toshidama Japanese Prints

Elephant being prepared for a parade, by Ichiryusai Yoshitoyo (1830-1866)      via Toshidama Japanese Prints

An example of how direct observation (of the whole animal) can lend authenticity is the picture by Yoshitoyo of an elephant in Japan being prepared for a parade. Whilst the creature still seems to owe a debt to Kuniyoshi’s precedent, the gesture, the convincing way that the animal grasps the straw and the focus of the eye suggest an intimacy born of first hand experience.     via Toshidama Japanese Prints

And who can resist this giddy Kuniyoshi –

Elephant catching a flying tengu, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi      via WikiCommons


Elephants, a few modern but mostly contemporary.

The Elephant Celebes, by Max Ernst

The Elephant Celebes by Max Ernst      via Wikipedia

Elephant from Andy Warhol's Endangered Species series

African Elephant from Andy Warhol’s Endangered Species series     via fuckyeahandywarhol

Obey Elephant by Shepard Fairey     via mashkulture

Banksy Elephant

Banksy Elephant by Banksy               via Graffiti Walls

Surprising how Banksy’s work — usually so adept with silhouettes — resonates here with some of Shepard Fairey’s highly patterned imagery –

Gowanus by Shepard Fairey

Gowanus by Shepard Fairey      via Kindness of Ravens

elephant by Niki de Saint Phalle

Stravinsky Fountain, Paris.  Elephant by the irrepressible Niki de Saint Phalle       via parisconnected

Elephant sculpture by Daniel Firman

Wursa by Daniel Firman     via mymodernmet

Exhibited back in 2008, this life-size piece was seen at the Fontainebleau Castle in Paris, France. …Firman consulted with a professional taxidermist to construct this piece making it look as real as possible.     via mymodernmet

Nasutamanus by Daniel Firman

Nasutamanus by Daniel Firman, shown at the Palais de Tokyo     via wordlesstech

A playful take on the same idea, Gran Elefandret by Majorcan artist Miquel Barcelo     via seemallorca

Chris Bennett manipulated photograph, Elephant Acrobats

Elephant Acrobats, digitally manipulated photograph by Chris Bennett      via artofday

Bennett appears to have a vision for his digital work — he’ll be interesting to keep tabs on.

The following two artworks I found at Saatchi Online.   Robust unexpected imagery from little-known painters.  Their work doesn’t seem to be consistently at this level yet but I respect the vision they show.

Sleeping in the Trafic [sic] by Antonio Mele         via saatchionline

Intruder by Filippo Francocci

Intruder by Filippo Francocci     via saatchionline

Elephant Boy by Laura Ford

Elephant Boy by Laura Ford     via Aberystwyth Art Centre

Two Headed-Elephant by Liz Parrish

Two Headed Elephant by Liz Parrish      via Converge Gallery


look further:

Utagawa Kuniyoshi

  • Kuniyoshi Project     Says it has over 5000 Kuniyoshi images — not hi-res but instructive.


Daniel Firman
Niki de Saint Phalle


By on February 24th, 2013

Babar the Elephant by Jean de Brunhoff (originally in French)     via Muse Reviews

Elephants are big in non-native cultures like the United States, Europe,  Japan.  We have Babar, Dumbo and the massive mascot of the GOP.  Why elephants have thudded into our hearts more than hippos or camels I don’t know.  My next few blogposts will be a celebration of the visual elephant as the West and un-elephanted East envision it.

1862 lithograph by E.B. Kellogg and E.C. Kellogg   See an argument that this pre-dates the Thomas Nast GOP elephant by 2 years, at elektratig


These two images started me on my quest:


An Elephant Rubbing Itself Against a Tree by Roelant Savery (Flemish, 1576 – 1639)     via Google Art Project

Painting of Elephants by Wu Guanzhong (Chinese, 1919-2010)     via chinaonlinemuseum


A Modest Serving of Elephants

Elephant in a Landscape by Tiepolo (Italian, 1727 – 1804)     via The Metropoloitan Museum of Art 


Rembrandt drawing of an elephant, 1637     via

Who Will Bell the Cat? etching by Francisco Goya, 1820      via Harris Schrank Fine Prints

Elephant and Monkey by Henri Guerard (1846 – 1897)     via artexpertswebsite

Rudyard Kipling’s illustration for his story The Elephant’s Child/How the Elephant Got His Trunk, 1902     via British Library English Timeline


Alexander Calder, Elephant, 1930/Cast 1966    via Cave to Canvas

Early 20th Century leather elephant     via Bonhams

Alexander Calder, Elephant Chair with Lamp, 1928     via San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Wire elephant, 1928, by Alexander Calder    via gg-art

Elephant drawing by e. e. cummings, ca 1921    via The Metropoloitan Museum of Art

Dali sculpture of an Elephant with long legs         via thedailytelecraft

Salvador Dali, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1946)  via 40hoursinbrisbane

Salvador Dali, Swans Reflecting Elephants (1937)    via fathomlessmystery