Among the stacks of beautifully illustrated and annotated volumes devoted to a featured art form, you sometimes stumble onto a surprising little book that offers more than a gratifying aesthetic journey. WHEN ELEPHANTS PAINT reaches around the globe and will touch the heart of anyone who understands the importance of preserving the Earth's environment and the species that inhabit it.
In 1995 Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, two Russian artists with a reputation for innovation, were introduced to an experiment in pachyderm painting in Phoenix, Arizona. Shortly after, an article in the New York Times about the plight of Thailand's elephant population sparked an idea for raising money to save these creatures from their suffering and eventual extinction --- and the rest, as they say, is history. For the next four years, Komar and Melamid along with any number of other enthusiasts set about to establish painting schools for Thailand's elephants and to market their product to a skeptical world.
Sound silly? When you read about their story, which is richly illustrated with photographs and accompanied by a detailed history of the elephants and their country, there are moments when you'll laugh out loud. The artists are witty and self-effacing about many of their trials along the way, and the result is a very entertaining read. But you won't be snickering at the plight of these marvelous creatures, nor at the ultimate results of the artists' project. In addition to other successes, in March of 2000, in the prestigious setting of Rockefeller Center, Christie's auction house held "The World's First Auction of Elephant Art." They raised $75,000.
Reviewed by Ann Bruns (BkPageWC@aol.com) on November 21, 2000