Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Art masterpieces from a Thailand elephant camp

If you thought artists have huge egos, how big would an elephant's ego be if he was a famous painter?

Jumbo sized would be the short answer.

I saw this painting done in 10 minutes with my own eyes
On a recent visit to Mae Sa Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai I watched the elephant show, enjoying the antics and the fun and games (see previous blog) but I was most transfixed by the sight of four elephants deep in studied concentration, producing amazing paintings.

Ok, some of them might have scored a 'Well done!' at kindergarten level, but others would have turned real artists a nice vermilion green with envy, jing jing.

One of the local staff, Mui, gave me a bit of background which confirmed my worst fears about primadonna pachyderms. "Elephants have many, many emotions," he said. "Some are a bit naughty." He believes dolphins are the most intelligent animal, followed by elephants. "Emotion like a dog."

In 2000 they started a painting program here for the youngest of their 72 elephants, starting at two years old. They train for 3-6 months before their precocious talents are foisted on the fawning world. It can take a month alone to get them to handle a brush properly.

"They train every day ... we have school. Practice about 1-2 hours per day."

Once they can handle the brush, they learn the order of the strokes by heart. Some elephants have a naturally distinctive style ... some do dots, some do lines, and others, well, it's  just abstract daaaahling.

Mae Sa once brought a Chinese painter out from China (well, where do you think he was going to come from?) to teach Chinese painting styles. They instructed the mahouts, who in tern translated this to their mammoth charges, and -- voila! -- more Chinese styles were churned out.

Talk about selling out! Mercenary behaviour!!!

The paintings produced each day typically sell for something like 2-6,000 baht. But the most expensive painting by an elephant here went for 1,500,000 baht (that's US$50,000). Entitled Cold Wind, Swirling Mist the masterpiece took six hours to complete.

Still, that's good money. In fact, with my long nose, I was thinking of throwing in this travel writing game, joining the elephant circus and picking up the brushes.

Just don't pat me on the head and feed me bananas, because I've got a big ego.

See more amazing Thailand elephant paintings here: www.gallerymaesa.com

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