Press Release - September 28, 1998...

Komar & Melamid Open Art School for Elephants in Thailand

The Russian collaborative artists Komar & Melamid and the Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project are pleased to announce the opening of a painting academy for elephants in Thailand. The primary aim of this innovative project is to teach domesticated Thai elephants to paint on canvas - a pursuit that has proved both enjoyable and lucrative for elephants in zoos throughout North America. These paintings by Thai elephants will be exhibited and marketed worldwide to generate much-needed funds for Asian elephant conservation.

The Hilton International Hotel in Bangkok will host a gala party and exhibition of elephant paintings on November 19, 1998. At this event, Komar & Melamid will present an original elephant painting to the Princess Galyani, sister of Thailand's King Bhumibol. Other events in Thailand will include inauguration ceremonies for three regional elephant art academies: in the northern region, near Lampang, during the week of November 9; in central Thailand, near Ayuttaya, on November 14-15; and on the southern island of Phuket on November 21. An overnight barge tour up the Chao Praya River from Bangkok to Ayutthaya, featuring lectures and slide presentations on animal art by Komar & Melamid and New York art historian Mia Fineman, is scheduled for November 13-14, 1998. Komar & Melamid will also speak about the elephant art project at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, California, on October 19, 1998 at 4:30pm.

Komar & Melamid began their collaborative work in 1965, soon achieving notoriety as the Soviet Union's most prominent dissident artists. In 1978 they emigrated to the United States, where they charmed American audiences with their large-scale paintings satirizing the style and iconography of Soviet art. For their last project, "The People's Choice," Komar & Melamid created a series of the Most Wanted and Least Wanted paintings for fourteen countries around the globe, based on the results of professional polls and market research.

Komar & Melamid have been working with elephants since 1995, when the collaborated on a series of paintings with Renee, an African elephant in the Toledo Zoo in Ohio. Shortly afterward, they spotted a news story about the plight of domesticated elephants in Thailand. Traditionally, elephants have been used to haul teak out of the lush jungles of rural Thailand - a vocation that supported both the elephants and their handlers, called mahouts. Since the late 1980s, however, clear-cutting and anti-logging laws have forced them to abandon the countryside for the countryside for the concrete jungle of Bangkok, where they roam the streets begging for change or selling fruit and rides to tourists. Due to unsafe working conditions and increasingly lax and unprofessional care, Asian elephants have been dying in alarming numbers.

Last spring, Komar & Melamid founded the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project to help provide occupational retraining for elephants and mahouts who have been left jobless by the collapse of Thailand’s timber industry. The project is dedicated to promoting and distributing works of art by elephants to raise funds for elephant conservation, as well as raising awareness about the plight of Asian elephants.

Within the past few years, elephant painting has been gaining momentum as the latest breakthrough in Outsider Art. As painters, elephants are masters of the rapidly executed, spontaneous gesture, and their canvases often recall the exuberant physicality of Abstract Expressionism. As New York art historian Mia Fineman has commented, “In the 1950s, artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline embraced the expansive gestural freedom of Action Painting as a way of harnessing the beast within and channeling it onto the canvas. For elephants, most of whom remain art-world outsiders, this unbridled spontaneity comes naturally. Indeed, elephant painting is the ultimate Outsider Art, reinvigorating a moribund art scene and resolving the fin-de-siecle crisis in painting with a bold and uninhibited return to gestural abstraction.”


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