AN ELEPHANT JOURNEY FROM MOSHA TO KIKU
Chris Chun is an award-winning textile designer, so it is perhaps not surprising that his design for Kiku was inspired by an antique kimono fabric he bought in Japan.
Chris says: “The thing I love about kimono fabrics are the rich colours, decorative embellishments and dramatic layout of patterns. I thought that a painting I had made based on this antique fabric would look stunning on an elephant.”
He certainly wasn’t wrong. Kiku is gorgeously joyful, fusing intricate Oriental patterns with bright flowers and butterflies. Chris says: “The rich colours create quite a regal effect. This seems particularly apt, as elephants are majestic creatures. I also added butterflies as they symbolise hope and freedom. It’s my way of wishing for elephants to be able to live in a safe and protected environment.”
Kiku is one of the elephant designs travelling around the UK as part of the Elephant Parade national tour presented by intu. The initial sketch for the design was so popular that intu has sponsored and purchased the elephant, which will live in the public space at intu’s Broadway offices in London when the tour is over. Trevor Pereira, Commercial Director at intu commented: “As the tour sponsor we were in the envious position of looking through all the designs to choose the 30 elephants to go on tour. We always knew we wanted to adopt one permanently to live in our reception once the tour was over. We’d seen dozens of submissions from artists all over the world with many great designs. When we saw Chris’s designs for Kiku we all knew she was the one we had been looking for”
Kiku has already led the touring elephants halfway around the UK, visiting intu centres at Watford, Manchester, Nottingham, Braehead, Newcastle, Stoke and Gateshead. Kiku has also appeared during the tour’s other stops at London and Cardiff. On the back of her national popularity, Kiku is set to become one of the tour elephants that will visit every venue in the intu tour’s 14-stop tour of the UK, which will connect with more than 30 million people.
Having now contributed designs for Elephant Parades in both the USA and the UK, Chris Chun has seen first hand the work Elephant Parade does. Earlier this year he met Mosha, the injured Asian elephant who was the inspiration for the Elephant Parade movement, which raises awareness of elephant conservation and funds for the charity, The Asian Elephant Foundation. Chris says: “It was a really humbling experience meeting Mosha and the other injured elephants that are being cared for.
“It gave a lot more meaning to this cause. My visit to see Mosha gave me more insight, seeing first hand the difference that Elephant Parade makes and getting to meet the elephants they help.”
This isn’t the first time Chris has got to work with elephants. Last year he had the opportunity to spend the day learning how to be a mahout, the name given to those who ride and train elephants. “We got to feed, bathe and look after our own elephant for the day - and it was just such a magical experience. They really are incredible, intelligent and gentle creatures.”
As an artist Chris normally creates mixed media paintings, as well as textile designs. These utilise Japanese and oriental designs with western paper collages - layering colour washes, origami and a combination of stamped and hand-made patterns to create ethereal, atmospheric effects.
Although the design of Kiku might appear similar in its subject matter, Chris says the process involved was radically different to his normal work.
“Kiku is definitely the biggest thing I have ever painted, by quite some margin. This is the first time I have created a 3D object, so that has been a real challenge, but one that has been hugely rewarding.”
He said the sheer size of the Kiku was quite daunting in itself. “You are thrilled when you’ve finished the trunk or a foot - and then you realise quite how much there is still left to paint!”
He added: “It’s when you are painting underneath its belly or behind a leg or trunk you appreciate the scale of it.”
In total he said he was “working solidly for a month” to paint Kiku. This did not include the time spent in advance finalising and finessing the design. He also had additional help at weekends, with a number of artists friends coming round to help paint Kiku.
“It was a lot of fun working with them on Kiku. It was a real collaborative process.” He said he has tried to include “lots of little details” for visitors and viewers to discover on Kiku, from patterns round her toenails to inside her leg. But he said his friends did point out that there was little point in painting an intricate flower design underneath Kiku’s belly - as no-one would be able to see it!
When the painting project was complete, Chris reflected on the sad moment when he had to see Kiku go. As he is based in Australia, Chris has not been able to see Kiku at the intu shopping centres yet, but hopes to meet intu and see the UK tour before its finale in London this summer. “Whilst it was sad to see Kiku leave, I am so pleased to see the hundreds of posts and pictures of her on social media and I am very happy that Kiku has made millions of people smile at the intu tour venues.”
He said he was also delighted that Kiku was sponsored by intu - the company that owns and manages the vast shopping centres, which are hosting this year’s Elephant Parade. He said: “I think Kiku was the first elephant to be finished for the tour. It’s a real honour that she’s being sponsored by intu. Hopefully she is doing her bit to help raise awareness for a fantastic cause and the money raised from the sale of the elephants will make a real difference in supporting the work of the Asian Elephant Foundation.”
However, the elephant-sized gap in his life - and his studio - was quickly filled with another elephant, which he worked on for the next Elephant Parade immediately afterwards. “I went from feeling a bit sad to thinking, wow, what I am going to paint on this one!”