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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Tusker

That elephant nose painting


When one thinks of the career arc of the average elephant, "artist" doesn't usually appear on the parabola. And yet thanks to Russian artists Alexander Melamid and Vitaly Komar, elephants in Thailand have not one but two art academies where they can learn to paint.

Melamid and Komar realized that with the timber industry in Thailand at a standstill, the log-hauling elephants had no work and no habitat. So the human artists trained the laid-off pachyderms to hold brushes with their trunks and express the ineffable mysteries of their souls on canvas. Most of the work is abstract in nature, but a few of the younger elephants have actually learned to approximate the traditional Chinese style — more proof that with the elephant, there is much more than meets the eye.

Gallery Visio on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus (1 University Drive at Natural Bridge Road; 314-516-7922) presents a show of paintings by the artists of Asian Elephant Art & Conservation today through Thursday, February 2. The free 4-to-7-p.m. opening reception features a video of the artists at work, and a concurrent fundraiser with cash bar and food takes place down the hall in Century Room C (admission is $10 to $35). Proceeds from the fundraiser and all art sales benefit the artists. It takes a lot of money to feed an elephant — and even more to get a beret made in the required size.
Jan. 19-Feb. 2