As an animal sculptor, it’s no surprise that my work regularly takes me to Africa, both as an artist and observer of wildlife and as an instructor of animal sculpture safaris. There is no finer spectacle of wildlife anywhere on the planet. And of all the remarkable animals this incredible continent has to offer none is more iconic than the African elephant. It is, in every sense, the Giant of the Plains.
An elephant in its prime reigns supreme. No other animal can challenge it. We all know, of course, that elephants are large animals. But until you encounter one in the wild, towering above you, trunk raised and ears flapping, it’s impossible to fully comprehend the spectacular scale and power of these extraordinary creatures.
They are utterly captivating and I never tire of studying them. And it isn’t just their size that is so impressive. They form tight family groups and live complex social lives. And despite the unrivalled size and power of the adults, their young are still vulnerable to attack from lions and crocodiles and even, on occasion, from leopards and hyenas.
To protect their families elephants have developed numerous ways of communicating danger and warning potential predators to keep their distance. And although elephants, by and large, are peaceful creatures, they will not shy away from confrontation when provoked, as I discovered myself during one memorable encounter with one of the elephants that frequent Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia’s world renowned South Luangwa National Park.
I was working quietly on one of the lodge’s terraces when an inquisitive young elephant named Winston approached and proceeded to extend his trunk over my desk to investigate. He then wrapped his trunk around my camera bag and lifted it clean off the ground right in front of me. Without thinking I called out to tell him ‘no’ but Winston simply took a step towards me and flapped his ears. There was no mistaking his meaning. It might be my camera bag, but he was a one-and-a-half ton elephant and would do as he pleased!
I can only imagine how intimidating such an encounter must be in the wild in a genuine stand-off. As well as flapping their ears, elephants will raise their trunks to signal their displeasure. If this doesn’t do the trick, they will raise one foot and lift themselves up to their full height. If necessary, they will then charge or fight.
As you can imagine, by this stage I had decided Winston was welcome to check out my camera bag and our encounter did not escalate to the next stage! Luckily for me, he found nothing of interest in my camera bag and discarded it unharmed with a disappointed wave of his trunk.
My encounter with Winston, and my time spent observing his family in the wild, led me to explore the confrontational language of elephants in my sculpture. These displays of seeming aggression are actually a way of diffusing tension and avoiding physical conflict. They are used to establish the elephants’ superiority and deter any further threat or assault. It certainly worked for me!
My latest bronze animal sculpture, Giant of the Plains, captures this spectacular display of intimidation. It depicts an adult in his prime stepping assertively forward, head raised and ears flapping to proclaim his unassailable size and strength.
As with all my animal sculptured, great care is taken to bring my subject to life. His trunk is stiff with tension, his tail aloft in agitation. Wrinkles are tightly packed around his mouth and there is mud on his ears from the watering hole. With sculpture, I always feel it’s the presence in the room that is so powerful and engaging. Giant of the Plains would make a spectacular centrepiece for any room.
This enthralling new sculpture in bronze is released in a limited edition of just 12 pieces. My last bronze elephant sculpture, Follow Me, is sold out and we expect demand to be high for this new release. The first pieces have already sold. Full details are available on the Buy page or contact the studio for more information or to reserve your piece.