Locations: Thailand

Meet the artists in Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya, Thailand






In residence at Ayutthaya Elephant Camp, Ayutthaya, Thailand

Reckless and impulsive, Bird is a born artist. The night before classes were scheduled to begin at the Ayutthaya Academy, Bird could barely restrain his enthusiasm. After the trainers had gone to sleep, he broke into one of the storerooms and stealthily pried to lid off one of the cans of paint that had been set aside for the first lesson. He couldn't find a brush, so he improvised, dipping his trunk into the can and smearing the camp's buildings and corrals with sloppy streaks of cobalt blue. In the morning, the surprised staff cleaned up the mess, and Bird got off with a light slap on the trunk.

Like many elephant artists, Bird was born into a family of timber workers, and the brute physicality of his working class background informs much of his painting. Bird approaches a blank canvas with a potent combination of exhilaration and fury, swinging his trunk in broad, sweeping strokes, forward and back, as if painting a fence. When he wants to change colors, he tosses the brush onto the ground and impatiently waits for a new one. His paintings, with their broad, tectonic lines of black, dark blue, and forest green, have often drawn comparisons to the work of Abstract Expressionist painter Franz Kline.—Mia Fineman

In residence at Ayutthaya Elephant Camp, Ayutthaya, Thailand

Nom Chok, who began painting at the precocious age of two, is known to many as the "enfant terrible" of the elephant art world. Born at the Ayutthaya Elephant Camp to a mother who died during childbirth, Nom Chok made his first painting by impulsively dipping his trunk into an open jar of watery paint and blowing forcefully onto a nearby canvas. The splattery effect was similar to that of Jackson Pollock's first drip paintings. Soon, however, Nom Chok graduated to broad housepainting brushes, which he now wields with a childlike exuberance, covering the surface of the canvas from edge to edge. He generally favors deep, murky tones which he mixes with an obvious pleasure in the creamy viscosity of the paint. As some critics have noted, Nom Chok's ethod is characterized by a driven, almost compulsive quality: he will not stop working on a canvas until every last bit of white has been obliterated.—Mia Fineman

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