Christine Wilcox-Baker is the artist behind Stop the Traffic, an elephant that carries a very important message about the plight of the Asian elephant.Christine is an artist and designer who is passionate about nature. The key message in her recent work has been the connection between man and nature and how, although we ourselves are part of nature, it’s very easy to think we’re something different. Christine was inspired to get involved with Public art after her first experience with it in the Cow Parade 2004. She took a public art-training course run by Cheshire county council, that lead her on to do an MA at Manchester Metropolitan University, in Art as Environment. Reflecting on her time there Christine said, “ it allowed me to completely focus on my work and it made me realise all of my inspirations and in which direction I wanted to go with my work.” Since then she has been working on a lot of different public art projects and private commissions.
Christine’s core work is drawing and painting and it is very important to her to be able to start her projects with drawings and develop them from there. She is however open-minded to working with a wide range of different mediums including metalwork and glasswork. “I work with the medium that is right for the project and if I can do it myself I will, but if I need help with something I will work closely with an expert in that area. I’m not going to be a blacksmith so if I need to do some metalwork I will work closely with a fabricator, someone who understands my way of thinking.” All of Christine’s projects start with research and drawings, as she likes to know there is a story and meaning behind her work.
When asked to submit designs for the Elephant Parade UK national tour sponsored by intu Christine knew that she wanted to come up with an interesting visual representation with a very serious message behind it. “I looked up a lot of information about the problems that elephants are faced with, their tusks being wanted for the ivory, their habitats being destroyed, unscrupulous hunters tracking them down and all the other things that are threatening to them. I wanted to build all of these issues into the design. I have seen some very beautiful designs on the elephants but for mine, I wanted it to be very specifically about the conservation of the elephants and all the awful things that are happening to them. I wanted to do this in a way that was accessible to the people who are going to see the elephants.”
With these ideas in mind Christine submitted four designs as possibilities to be included in the elephant parade 2013, all with the over-arching message of raising awareness of the plight of the Asian elephant. Christine’s “Lolli-phant” design, was a much more light hearted take on the message, the elephant took on the role of a lollipop lady, complete with lollipop, to say STOP to all the awful things that are happening to elephants. Another design, “Nelly” was based on the children’s rhyme and was covered in trumpets, not only as a play on words to the line of the rhyme “off she went with a trumpety, trump” but also because the trumpet is the sound that an enraged elephant makes. The third of Christine’s possible designs, ‘Nature’s gift’ was an elephant wrapped up in wrapping paper with a great big bow on top to represent how precious nature and life are and that we should treasure them.
The final design, that was selected for the tour, was a lot more detailed than the others and includes a range of existing road signs as well as a few that Christine created herself such as the danger of death of elephants, elephants falling and don’t overtake elephants. Christine was happy with the final choice, not only due to the strong message behind it but also because it was aesthetically very attractive. Christine reflected on the final design saying “ I still wanted it to look like an elephant, so hence the elephant colour background. It’s like she is making her own protest saying ‘I’m going to go out there and tell everyone how it is.’”
Part of the inspiration behind her final design came from a trip she made to Thailand, during which she had the chance to ride a real Asian elephant. “I was lucky enough to be the person who sits on the very top of it’s back and I remember the amazing texture of the skin and the bristly hairs along its neck. It struck me how such big creatures can be so gentle and graceful.”
When the blank elephant statue arrived at her home Christine wasn’t in, so her husband had to take the delivery. She came home to a beautiful white elephant waiting for her in her studio and set to work. The process of painting the elephant and making the shapes work on a three dimensional creature was very different to drawing the design on a flat piece of paper. “It was a long process but I found I really bonded with my elephant; I’d go in and pat her in the morning and talk to her. I really found the whole process very thought provoking, from making the designs to figuring out how to fit them in. I let it evolve as I went along and it was quite a sad moment when I had to say goodbye.” Fortunately Christine had the chance to be reunited with Stop the Traffic when the herd arrived at the intuTrafford Centre in Manchester for the press launch.
To see more of Christine’s work you can visit her website atwww.axisweb.org/artist/christinewilcoxbaker
You can see Stop the Traffic alongside the rest of the herd at the intu Metrocentre, Gateshead until the 13th October.